Army Captain Charles Gatlin was one of many veterans to return home from Iraq with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In fact, so many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have suffered from TBI that it has been coined as the signature injury of this war.
TBI is a complex injury with a broad spectrum of symptoms and disabilities. Symptoms include confusion, blurry vision, and concentration difficulty.
Captain Gatlin was medically discharged from the army in 2009 after his unit drove over an improvised explosive device (IED). The Army awarded Gatlin with a purple heart and a 70% disability rating for his TBI.
The 70% rating was given after three years of testing that found Gatlin’s injuries were “likely to be stable and permanent.”
Gatlin and his wife moved to Montana to start the process of assimilating back to civilian life. When Gatlin applied for VA benefits for his TBI the VA asked him to come to a VA clinic for an evaluation.
At this evaluation Dr. Robert Bateen, a VA psychologist, performed an RBANS test on Gatlin and found his TBI had unexpectedly improved. “If Mr. Gatlin had a cognitive impairment in the past, it is likely that this has resolved” stated Dr. Bateen.
Dr. Bateen’s opinion caused the VA to lower Gatlin’s rating from 70% to 10%. Obviously, Gatlin appealed but was denied again. This didn’t stop Gatlin. He decided to get an outside opinion from the state of Montana.
The state board of psychologists reviewed the case and found that the RBANS test Dr. Bateen used violated “accepted standards of practice.” The board went so far as to reprimand Dr. Bateen because “The RBANS is not an appropriate tool for determining the effects of mild TBI.”
As it turns out, the RBANS test is designed to test for dementia, not TBI. The RBANS manual explicitly states, “mild impairment may not be detected.” Meaning if a person had a mild TBI, the RBANS would be unable to detect it.
The RBANS test is the accepted medical test for TBI for VA clinics nationwide. Dr. Bateen estimated that he has conducted around 9,000 RBANS tests in his career.
Gatlin eventually took his fight to Washington and was re-awarded his 70% rating, four years after he returned home. His story prompted Congress to demand a review of TBI testing at the VA, which is currently underway.
It is unclear how long the Congressional investigation will take and what the result will be. Until then veterans with TBI will have to continue to fight for their benefits. Jan Dils Attorneys at Law is ready and willing to fight alongside veterans who need help getting TBI benefits.