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Ask the MS Expert

Military Veterans Living with MS: What You Should Know
In commemoration for Veterans Day, a special Ask the MS Expert featured US Air Force Veteran Karla Clay, who shared her story of experiencing symptoms of MS while on active duty and being diagnosed after leaving the military.  Maggie Kazmierski, LSCW, social worker at the Baltimore MS Center of Excellence, highlighted services available to Veterans living with MS and how to connect to those services within the VA system.
 

Real Talk MS Podcast

November 11 is Veterans Day in the United States, giving us an opportunity to honor the men and women who have served in America's armed forces. More than 70,000 U.S. veterans are living with MS, and joining me on the podcast is Karla Clay, an Air Force veteran, and a National Veterans Wheelchair Games multiple medal winner. We're talking about the life-changing turn that Karla's MS journey ended up taking.

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Overview

Currently there are no accurate estimates of the prevalence or incidence of MS for the entire Veteran population partly because only about 40% of Veterans, approximately 20,000, receive their care within the VA Health Care System (VHA). Based on a recently published report, a larger national estimate of MS prevalence determined that the prevalence of MS within VHA users increased from a rate of 141 per 100,000 Veterans in 1999 to a rate of 262 per 100,000 Veterans in 2014.

A diagnosis of MS is based on medical history and neurological exam. Symptoms often occur years before a diagnosis is made. Neurologic symptoms occurring within 7 years of discharge, regardless of date of diagnosis, can be used to support service-connection for MS. Service-connection is given for disabilities that were not diagnosed while on active duty, but “presumed” to have begun during service. MS has a longer presumptive period of 7 years and awarded a 30% rating.

There is no evidence suggesting Gulf War Veterans are at increased risk for MS or demyelinating diseases in general. There is also no demonstrated connection between Agent Orange and MS. Due to a variety of disorders that are connected to Agent Orange, the VA has created a website that addresses questions, and has a research program dedicated to studying this exposure and its relationship to health.

U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs - MS Centers of Excellence

The Department of Veterans Affairs established the VA MS Centers of Excellence (MSCoE) in 2003. The MSCoE utilize a network of approximately 70 regional programs to:
  • improve care for veterans with MS,
  • enhance MS education for patients, caregivers and providers
  • promote research into the causes and treatments for MS.
In 2019 the National MS Society signed a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, MS Centers of Excellence, to improve care and expand resources for veterans living with multiple sclerosis and their families.
 
To find the nearest VA clinics and MS Centers of Excellence, visit their website or reach out via email at MSCentersofExcellence@va.gov.

VA benefits

If you are a veteran diagnosed with MS within 7 years of your separation from the military, the Veterans Health Administration may classify your illness as related to your military service and award you a “service-connected” disability. You may still be eligible if you separated from the military more than 7 years ago if you must have a diagnosis by a healthcare provider, preferably a neurologist, who links the symptoms you had during those 7 years directly to your current diagnosis.  Some veterans have had success by using a "nexus" letter to support their claim.

To find out if you are eligible, read the VA eligibility criteria or call the VA benefits line at 800-827-1000.

When applying for benefits, make sure you have:
  • A complete and ongoing journal of your symptoms- include dates, duration, severity, names of medical providers, and any witnesses who can attest to the limitations imposed by your MS.
  • File of all your medical records (military and non-military)- you must have a copy of your DD Form 214 and documentation of all your medical information to date. This information could help support a case for future rating increases.

MS and Me: Community Reintegration

This video, courtesy of the VA, describes the social isolation that people with MS sometimes encounter, and highlights the various social support programs that can help Veterans overcome this isolation and stay socially engaged.
 

Additional resources

Resources from the VA MS Centers of Excellence Resources from the VA National Veterans Resources
  • Easter Seals: offers a variety of services to help people with disabilities address life’s challenges and achieve personal goals. 
  • Disabled American Veterans: provides free, professional assistance to veterans and their families in obtaining disability compensation benefits and services earned through military service and provided by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA), the U.S. Dept. of Defense (DOD) and other government agencies. 
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America: assists veterans, including those with MS, to qualify for VA benefits and healthcare; contact PVA directly for help navigating the system to access benefits earned through military services.
  • The Exceptional Family Member Program: for families with medical needs
  • Wounded Warrior Project: provides unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of severely injured service members.
Connect

Connection opportunities

  • MS World offers chat rooms led by volunteers with MS specifically for members of the military and their families.

Thank You for Your Service

Margee and Nick Mangus are college sweethearts and have been married for 36 years. Margee is a registered nurse, and Nick was Field Artillery. As a military family, they lived in Germany and numerous duty stations in the US, including Hawaii.

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Featured Video

A Veteran's Perspective

While serving as an officer on the bridge of the USS Bonhomme Richard in 2009, Donnie Horner was diagnosed with MS.

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