Veterans with ALS – You are Not Alone!
May is ALS Awareness Month. It is a call to action as the ALS community advocates on Capitol Hill for increased funding of ALS research toward treatments and a cure. It is also a time to recognize the Paralyzed Veterans of America’s commitment to secure benefits and treatments for Veterans with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS is a neurological disease that causes degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord leading to muscle weakness, atrophy, and loss of function. ALS ultimately robs a person of the ability to walk, talk, eat, and breath. Considering the damage ALS can do, it is essential to spread awareness so Veterans can be treated as early as possible. Though there currently is no cure, early detection and expert clinical care can provide optimal quality of life through a total body and wholistic management of symptoms.
Early symptoms of ALS may include:
- difficulty swallowing
- stiffness of affected muscles
- muscle weakness affecting an arm or a leg
- slurred speech
As the disease progresses, most people lose their ability to walk or use their arms and hands. They also lose the ability to talk and swallow food. ALS varies considerably among Veterans regarding site of onset and rate of progression. The Institute of Medicine reported that U.S. military Veterans appear to have an increased risk of developing ALS. Experts recommend additional research to further assess the relationship between ALS and military service, and to determine what factors of military service may cause the disease.
In 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs began recognizing ALS as a presumptively compensable illness for all Veterans with 90 days or more of continuous active service in the military. In 2011, ALS was given a minimum service-connected rating of 100%, regardless of the disease progression or degree of disability.
The PVA’s mission is to help those with catastrophic disabilities such as ALS apply for benefits. PVA National Service Officers are trained to look out for these types of claims because they know that ALS progresses so quickly. In the October, 2021 edition of The Military Times, article titled, “ALS is Killing Veterans,” author Chris Mulholland wrote, “Every day in America, three veterans are diagnosed with ALS while another three die from it. The prognosis for a person diagnosed with ALS today is largely the same as it was 150 years ago – death in two to five years.”
In March 2019, the “ALS in the Military” report confirmed that “ALS is connected to military service regardless of the branch of service or whether serving during peacetime or in war.
Since 2001, ALS has taken the lives of more veterans than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.”
“The Paralyzed Veterans of America has represented over 12,000 Veterans with ALS since 2008, when the VA implemented new regulations providing benefits for Veterans with ALS. We represent approximately 70% of Veterans with ALS and since 2008, have helped these Veterans secure more than one and half billion dollars in disability payments and ancillary benefits. We have assisted these Veterans in obtaining much needed health care, as well as other benefits. Please contact PVA if you are a Veteran with ALS, or know of a Veteran with ALS in need of assistance.”
– Joseph Badzmierowski, PVA Director of Field Services
The PVA can connect Veterans to VA medical centers and outpatient clinics around the country. A growing number of VA medical centers have ALS clinics with teams of ALS specialists who provide coordinated, Veteran-centric care. Attending one of these clinics can play a critical role in improving quality, possibly even extending life.
If you have been diagnosed with ALS, served in the U.S. military for 90 or more consecutive days of active duty, and have been honorably discharged, you will likely be eligible for service-connected benefits. If you qualify, you can receive numerous benefits through the VA, including:
- VA ALS clinics visits with ALS specialists at your nearest VA medical center.
- Durable medical equipment for respiratory, mobility, communication, and daily living needs.
- Disability compensation on a monthly, tax-free basis.
- Specially adapted housing grant (SAH) to help build, buy, or remodel an accessible home.
- Automobile grant of up to $20,000 to buy a disability-accessible vehicle.
- Aid and attendance allowance to help pay for care at home.
Paralyzed Veterans of America specializes in providing services for Veterans and service members who are severely injured or suffer disabling diseases. Services are free of charge and are offered from the time of disability to end of life.
How to contact PVA:
PVA National Service Officer locator:
National Headquarters TTY