--Here's another great guest article from our friends at Hill & Ponton--
What is MS?
Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is an autoimmune and neurological disease that affects
the central nervous system of the body. When your body sends a message to
another part of the body, it does so through nerve cells. The nerve cells
transmit these signals through fibers to ensure that every electrical impulse
gets to its intended target. In a healthy nerve, the electrical impulses travel
easily from one nerve cell to the other. In someone with MS, there is a
disruption. MS causes the body to destroy the coating protects the fibers,
leaving them exposed and damaged. Nerve impulses now travelling down these
fibers experience distortion or interruptions, often producing a variety of
symptoms. MS is like having your electrical wires crossed, you expect one
thing, and sometimes get something else.
According to a study conducted by the VA in 2012
, almost 13% of all veterans are diagnosed with
MS. This is a higher rate than the general population and no one really knows
How can I get VA Compensation for MS?
To be eligible for any benefit from the VA you must meet
Be separated or discharged from Active Duty by
other than dishonorable conditions
Have a diagnosed disability
That disability was caused by, during, or
aggravated by or during your active duty service (i.e. service-connected
MS is rated at a minimum of 30% based on the VA rating schedule
Symptoms of MS
include loss of coordination, weakness, difficulty eating, muscle spasms or
tics, difficulty breathing, nerve paralysis, double vision, depression, and
other mental disorders. MS is presumptive if it is diagnosed during active duty
or to a compensable level within 7 years of discharge from Active Duty service.
Applying for VA Compensation within this period is imperative if you have been
diagnosed during service or the seven years post discharge. Presumptive means
that you do not need a Nexus Letter
, something linking your disability to your service. If you do not
file during the presumptive time, you will need a Nexus from a doctor and an
in-service event or exposure to link the MS to active duty service.
What if I am not service connected? Can I still get
Yes, whether service connected or not, the
VA also offers other benefits to all veterans who have MS. Veterans who are
non-service connected for MS are still eligible for benefits in several ways.
First, of course, check to see if you are within the presumptive period and
apply for disability compensation, or, if you or your doctor can link symptoms
back to that presumptive period, even if you were not yet diagnosed, go ahead
and file a claim. You don’t have anything to lose.
Now, without receiving disability compensation, veterans
with MS are may also be eligible for an array of other services.
- Medical Care: even under non-service connected status, many
veterans may be eligible for health care for their MS
- Prosthetic and Sensory Aids: this includes devices such as
hearing aids, eyeglasses, speech and communication devices, home dialysis,
orthopedic, wheelchairs, respiratory aids, hospital beds, and other
Improvement Grants: there are several types of grants veterans can apply
for to modify or purchase specially adaptive homes due to severely debilitating
diseases such as MS.
- Mobility Benefits: this includes referrals for Physical
Medicine and Rehabilitation Services or
other interdisciplinary specialties and
evaluation of needs for mobility such as power chairs.
- Driver Rehabilitation: Service such as driver retraining and
assessments to help veterans maintain independence
- Modifications: automobile
adaptive grants cover the one time purchase of adaptive equipment for such
items as van lifts.
- Clothing Allowance: Veterans may receive an annual monetary
allowance to assist with the purchase of clothing that is damaged due to
orthopedic appliances such as wheelchairs, etc.
- Prescription medications: MS medications are expensive, and
sometimes insurance copays are almost as expensive when the medications are
Tier three or not covered at all, based on eligibility, VA prescriptions may be
able to help with those costs.
- Aid and Attendance: Veterans and survivors who are eligible
for pension and require the aid and attendance of another person due to being
housebound or inability to care for themselves alone, may be eligible for
additional monetary payment
- Mental Health Services: All mental health services are
available to eligible veterans, and there is legislation to expand those
services to all veterans soon. MS victims have the extra burden of emotional
issues due to the neurological damage that MS wreaks on the person’s brain.
- Respite Care: everyone needs a break now and then, and while
we recognize that the person suffering from MS never gets a break, those who
care for them need those breaks from time to time to deal with not only the
physical demands, but the emotional ones as well. Respite is an often
under-utilized service that is available to those eligible for it.
The MS Centers for Excellence also provide services for
caregivers. Whether they are part time, full time, family members, friends, or
paid; they have a responsibility that outweighs every other; the responsibility
of another person’s well-being and health. For all caregivers, this is an
enormous responsibility and one that often wears them down emotionally over
time. However, with those caring for MS patients, it can often be extra
difficult due to the emotional issues.
People with MS often experience lack of emotional filtering,
this is especially true when there is damage or an active lesion to the nerves
that are in the brain stem areas. The brain stem is the part of the brain that
deals with emotion and instinct. Couple this with any issues in the regulation
parts of the brain, and you have someone who says everything they think, good
or bad, no matter what the consequences; and it can sometimes be very hurtful
if you are a loved one caring for them. Having support for caregivers is a much
needed service for those who care for Veterans with MS due to this unique
aspect of the disease.
The caregiver program, MS Caregivers
provides a toll free hotline, up to 30 days of respite care per year, a support
network including the Caregiver REACH program (one specifically designed for
those caring for Veterans with MS); and telephone and in person based support
groups. There is a huge amount of resources from the VA and the MS Foundation
for caregivers to utilize.
Studies and Treatment
There are also studies and treatment available. The MS Foundation has a
booklet available for free download called Disease Modifying Therapies
for MS that is found on the VA’s website and goes
through all of the main 13 current treatment modalities so that Veterans can
discuss them with their doctors.
brochure covers injectables, orals, and infused medications and reviews pros,
cons, and approvals.
The MS Centers of Excellence also
offer a Smartphone App for Apple iPhone, Android, and Blackberry Torch. The app
links Veterans to med information, coverage information on adaptive equipment,
caregiver resources, and other VA benefits, symptom management, and VA
resources. Instructions for downloading can be found here
The MS Centers of Excellence also
works hard at keeping up with the latest therapies, advancements in research,
and technology. Below are links to their site and some others that are valuable
to anyone with Multiple Sclerosis.