Did you know that multiple sclerosis (MS) has been associated with military service?
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes that multiple sclerosis may be classified as a service-connected disability eligible for VA benefits. Includes in the resources section at the end of this article are several studies published during the past decade examining aspects of MS diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment in US Veterans.
Established in 2003, the VA MS Centers of Excellence (MSCoeE) is dedicated to furthering the understanding of multiple sclerosis, its impact on Veterans, and effective treatments to help manage MS symptoms. The MSCoE utilizes a network of regional programs, telemedicine, and informatics to improve care for veterans with MS, to enhance MS educations for patients, caregivers and healthcare providers, and to promote research into the causes and treatments of MS.
The MSCoE consists of centers in Baltimore, MD, Seattle, WA, and Portland, OR, as well as approximately 70 regional MS programs throughout the US. The VA has provided an easy-to-use clickable map to help you locate the VA MS Specialty Clinic nearest you.
I am a Veteran with MS. Am I eligible for disability benefits?
If an individual had symptoms of MS while in the military, or within seven years after honorable discharge, he/she may be eligible for service-connected disability. In this case, the Veteran should complete the Veterans Application for Compensation and/or Pension available online or at their local medical center.
If an individual separated from the military more than seven years prior to an MS diagnosis, he/she may still be eligible for disability benefits. In this case, the Veteran must be diagnosed by a healthcare provider, preferably a neurologist who specializes in MS, who directly links symptoms experienced during the first seven years post-separation to the current diagnosis. According to the National MS Society, some Veterans have had success by using a Nexus letter.
To find out if you are eligible for benefits, read the VA eligibility criteria, or call the VA benefits line at 1-800-827-1000. You may also contact Veterans Service Organizations (VSO), such as the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and United Spinal Association, for support and assistance.
Keep in mind that the VA continues to provide healthcare services to veterans with MS from the time of diagnosis and throughout their life, regardless of whether their MS has been determined to be service-connected or not.
I am the caregiver of an MS Veteran. Are services available for me?
The VA recognizes that caregivers and care partners are very important to the lives of Veterans with MS. It is important that caregivers take care of themselves, in addition to caring for their loved one with MS. The MSCoE website offers tips for support and respite care. All Veterans and Caregivers are eligible for 30 days of respite time per year.
If you need to talk to someone about caregiving, call the VA Caregiver Support Line at 855-260-3274. A Caregiver coordinator can tell you about benefits for you and your Veteran with MS.
The MSCoE also offers monthly MS Caregiver conference calls during which you may network, share experiences, discuss topics related to caregiving, and learn about available resources. Families and caregivers of people with MS are invited to participate on the 4th Monday of every month at 2-3 pm ET by calling 1-800-767-1750, then punch in 43157#.
I am a Veteran and would like to share my story.
Sharing our stories is a valuable experience, both to the individual sharing the story and to those who read the story and feel connected to others living with this disease. The MSCoE offers a platform for Veterans to share their stories of living with MS. The stories are "filled with life’s challenges, the value of family and friends, a little sense of humor thrown in and lots of hopefulness."
If you would like to share your story with other Veterans, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence. US Department of Veterans Affairs. Accessed at https://www.va.gov/ms/
- Health Care Benefits for Veterans with Multiple Sclerosis.
- Caregivers/Care Partners - Taking Care of Yourselves
- Veterans with MS Share Their Stories.
RESEARCH STUDIES (2000-2014):
O’Donovan A, Cohen BE, Seal KH, et al. Elevated Risk for Autoimmune Disorders in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Biol Psychiatry. 2014 Jun 28. pii: S0006-3223(14)00457-0. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.06.015. [Epub ahead of print]
Wallin MT, Kurtzke JF, Culpepper WJ, et al. Multiple sclerosis in gulf war era veterans. 2. Military deployment and risk of multiple sclerosis in the first gulf war. Neuroepidemiology. 2014;42(4):226-34. doi: 10.1159/000360701. Epub 2014 May 25.
Bambara JK, Turner AP, Williams RM, Haselkorn JK. Social support and depressive symptoms among caregivers of veterans with multiple sclerosis. Rehabil Psychol. 2014 May;59(2):230-5. doi: 10.1037/a0036312. Epub 2014 Apr 14.
Yi SW, Ohrr H, Hong JS, Yi JJ. Agent Orange exposure and prevalence of self-reported diseases in Korean Vietnam veterans. J Prev Med Public Health. 2013 Sep;46(5):213-25. doi: 10.3961/jpmph.2013.46.5.213. Epub 2013 Sep 30.
Finkelstein J, Cha E, Wood J, Wallin MT. Predictors of successful acceptance of home telemanagement in veterans with Multiple Sclerosis. Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2013;2013:7314-7. doi: 10.1109/EMBC.2013.6611247.
Cameron MH, Fitzpatrick M, Overs S, et al. Dalfampridine improves walking speed, walking endurance, and community participation in veterans with multiple sclerosis: a longitudinal cohort study. Mult Scler. 2014 May;20(6):733-8. doi: 10.1177/1352458513507356. Epub 2013 Oct 7.
Kojima G, Tamai A, Karino S, et al. Bupropion-related visual hallucinations in a veteran with posttraumatic stress disorder and multiple sclerosis. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2013 Oct;33(5):717-9. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0b013e3182a11622. No abstract available.
Wallin MT, Culpepper WJ, Coffman P, et al,; Veterans Affairs Multiple Sclerosis Centres of Excellence Epidemiology Group. The Gulf War era multiple sclerosis cohort: age and incidence rates by race, sex and service. Brain. 2012 Jun;135(Pt 6):1778-85. doi: 10.1093/brain/aws099.
Marder E, Gupta P, Greenberg BM, et al. No cerebral or cervical venous insufficiency in US veterans with multiple sclerosis. Arch Neurol. 2011 Dec;68(12):1521-5. doi: 10.1001/archneurol.2011.185. Epub 2011 Aug 8.
McDowell TY, Amr S, Culpepper WJ, et al. Sun exposure, vitamin D intake and progression to disability among veterans with progressive multiple sclerosis. Neuroepidemiology. 2011;37(1):52-7. doi: 10.1159/000329258. Epub 2011 Aug 5.
Cameron MH, Poel AJ, Haselkorn JK, et al. Falls requiring medical attention among veterans with multiple sclerosis: a cohort study. J Rehabil Res Dev. 2011;48(1):13-20.
Culpepper WJ 2nd, Cowper-Ripley D, Litt ER, et al. Using geographic information system tools to improve access to MS specialty care in Veterans Health Administration. J Rehabil Res Dev. 2010;47(6):583-91.
Bambara JK, Turner AP, Williams RM, Haselkorn JK. Perceived social support and depression among Veterans with multiple sclerosis. Disabil Rehabil. 2011;33(1):1-8. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2010.481026. Epub 2010 Sep 2.
Barth SK, Kang HK, Bullman TA, Wallin MT. Neurological mortality among U.S. veterans of the Persian Gulf War: 13-year follow-up. Am J Ind Med. 2009 Sep;52(9):663-70. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20718.
Wallin MT, Page WF, Kurtzke JF. Migration and multiple sclerosis in Alaskan military veterans. J Neurol. 2009 Sep;256(9):1413-7. doi: 10.1007/s00415-009-5123-5. Epub 2009 Apr 18.
Khurana SR, Bamer AM, Turner AP, et al. The prevalence of overweight and obesity in veterans with multiple sclerosis. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2009 Feb;88(2):83-91. doi: 10.1097/PHM.0b013e318194f8b5.
Kurtzke JF. Some contributions of the Department of Veterans Affairs to the epidemiology of multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler. 2008 Sep;14(8):1007-12. doi: 10.1177/1352458508096005.
Turner AP, Kivlahan DR, Kazis LE, Haselkorn JK. Smoking among veterans with multiple sclerosis: prevalence correlates, quit attempts, and unmet need for services. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2007 Nov;88(11):1394-9.
Ambrosio F, Boninger ML, Fitzgerald SG, et al. Comparison of mobility device delivery within Department of Veterans Affairs for individuals with multiple sclerosis versus spinal cord injury. J Rehabil Res Dev. 2007;44(5):693-701.
Campbell DG, Turner AP, Williams RM, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine use in veterans with multiple sclerosis: Prevalence and demographic associations. J Rehabil Res Dev. 2006 Jan-Feb;43(1):99-110.
Haselkorn JK. Veterans Health Administration Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence: Clinical care, education, informatics, and research. J Rehabil Res Dev. 2006 Jan-Feb;43(1):vii-x. No abstract available.
Hatzakis M Jr, Turner AP, Williams RM, et al. Predictors of prescriptions for management of fatigue among veterans with multiple sclerosis. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2005 Jul;86(7):1376-80.
Lo AC, Hadjimichael O, Vollmer TL. Treatment patterns of multiple sclerosis patients: a comparison of veterans and non-veterans using the NARCOMS registry. Mult Scler. 2005 Feb;11(1):33-40.
Williams RM, Turner AP, Hatzakis M Jr, et al. Prevalence and correlates of depression among veterans with multiple sclerosis. Neurology. 2005 Jan 11;64(1):75-80.
Wallin MT, Page WF, Kurtzke JF. Multiple sclerosis in US veterans of the Vietnam era and later military service: race, sex, and geography. Ann Neurol. 2004 Jan;55(1):65-71.
Vollmer TL, Hadjimichael O, Preiningerova J, et al. Disability and treatment patterns of multiple sclerosis patients in United States: a comparison of veterans and nonveterans. J Rehabil Res Dev. 2002 Mar-Apr;39(2):163-74.
Wallin MT, Page WF, Kurtzke JF. Epidemiology of multiple sclerosis in US veterans. VIII. Long-term survival after onset of multiple sclerosis. Brain. 2000 Aug;123 ( Pt 8):1677-87.
Lisa Emrich is a patient advocate, accomplished speaker, author of the award-winning blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA, and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers. Lisa uses her experience to educate patients, raise disease awareness, encourage self-advocacy, and support patient-centered research. Lisa frequently works with non-profit organizations and has brought the patient voice to health care conferences and meetings worldwide. Follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.