Serving Those Who Served—Services Available for a Veteran with ALS

Among the many confounding facts about ALS is that veterans are twice as likely as the general population to develop ALS. While there is no fairness in this, those who served our country have the right to expect we as a nation will serve them in return. As we honor those who have served on Veterans Day, we wanted to take some time to explore what services veterans with ALS can access, how they can access them, and what they’ll find at the John A. Cochran VA Medical Center ALS Clinic:

A vet who seeks medical assistance is taking part in a tradition nearly as old as the country itself

The federal government has been providing medical assistance to veterans in some form since the early 1800s. The VA itself has been existence since 1930 when all governmental programs for veterans were consolidated into one agency.

The first step in getting the benefits a vet with ALS deserves is getting registered

As with many government programs, when you get registered matters. If they are not already, a veteran diagnosed with ALS in our region should register with our chapter. We can connect you with the correct people to complete the registration process to become “service connected,” which entitles the veteran and his or her family with a wide variety of benefits. Starting the application process as soon as possible is important, as many benefits are retroactive to the application date.

The paperwork is important, and there will be a lot of it

The VA is the government, and as such there will be a few (or more) forms to complete and submit. However, the experts with the ALS Association and the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) are available to help veterans and their families navigate through the paperwork to access the benefits and services they are entitled to.

The ALS Clinic at John A. Cochran VA Medical Center offers comprehensive, ALS-specific care

A veteran who attends the VA ALS Clinic is not receiving on-call treatment from general practitioners, but comprehensive, coordinated care from a team of experts. Since its founding in 2017, the clinic has served more than 70 veterans and their families.

And when we say comprehensive, we mean it

The approach of the VA ALS Clinic is to provide the veteran and their family access to all the care they need in a single day, as opposed to having to schedule multiple appointments over multiple days. During each clinic visit, a veteran will meet with a nursing professional, a doctor specializing in ALS, a social worker, a speech language pathologist, a registered dietician, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a mental health professional, a PVA specialist, and an ALS Association liaison. Each step of the process is designed to make sure no part of a veterans care falls through the cracks.

Even when a veteran’s visit is over, his or her care isn’t

At the end of a clinic day, the entire clinic staff gather to discuss the visit and make recommendations. This discussion allows the care team to make sure the veteran is receiving all the care he or she needs and to plan for future care needs. The veteran and his family are also encouraged to follow up with a specialist between clinic visits as needed.

A veteran’s benefits extent well beyond clinic

Access to the quality, comprehensive care at the VA ALS Clinic is just part of what a veteran with ALS can expect. All of the veterans pharmacy needs can be covered by the on-site pharmacy, and nutritional supplements are a covered benefit. The VA also provides access to equipment such as power wheelchairs and ventilators at no cost to the veteran. There is also an Augmentative/Alternative Communication device users’ group lead by a speech pathologist to assist veterans.

In addition, the veteran’s benefits are portable to any other VA clinics or facilities across the country, where they will have access to all the veterans’ medical records and treatment history.

And a veteran’s benefits extend well beyond healthcare

In addition to access to the VA ALS Clinic and other medical benefits, an eligible veteran will receive monthly compensation, grants for transportation needs like wheelchair-accessible vans, as well as home modifications and adaptions. There is also life and mortgage insurance available, in addition to other benefits for dependents. A representative from the PVA will walk the veteran and their family through what is available and ensure that all forms and applications are filed correctly.

We have only touched on what a veteran with ALS can expect after registering and accessing the benefits available to them and their family. Each person with ALS is different and has different needs. During each step of the process the needs of the individual veteran will be assessed so that the care they need can be delivered in the best way possible for them.

The motto of the VA are words spoken by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” It is impossible for us as a nation to fully repay the service our veterans have provided to us. But through the VA ALS Clinic we hope veterans with ALS will find the care and services they deserve.

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