News Releases

Senator Murray Introduces New Bill to Help More Veterans with Multiple Sclerosis

Dec 20 2005

Murray's Bill Addresses the High Rate of MS Among Veterans;
Wins Endorsement of MSVETS and National Gulf War Resource Center

Murray's Legislation Lifts the VA's Arbitrary 7-year Limit to Qualify for Automatic VA Benefits

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) introduced new legislation to help more veterans who have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) qualify for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A growing number of veterans from the first Gulf War are now developing symptoms of MS, but they often face an uphill battle in obtaining disability benefits from the VA.



"Too many veterans with MS are having trouble getting the care and the benefits they deserve," Murray said. "These men and women served our nation bravely, and they should not be denied care because of arbitrary rules. My bill will ensure that veterans get the care they have earned no matter when their symptoms emerge. It will provide relief for veterans of the first Gulf War and will ensure adequate care for current service members who may develop MS in the future."



Under current law, veterans have seven years after being honorably discharged to connect their MS to their military service. Unfortunately, many veterans don't develop the symptoms of MS until after seven years, making them ineligible for automatic disability benefits from the Veterans Administration. These veterans must then go through a lengthy appeals process to prove that their disability is service-connected.



Senator Murray's bill is supported by a number of organizations that represent veterans with MS, including the National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC) and MS Vets.

"Senator Murray's bill validates the significant health care crisis of veterans who served our nation during the Persian Gulf War," said Julie Mock, President of NGWRC and a veteran of the first Gulf War who has MS. "Approximately 500 Persian Gulf War veterans have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis with service connections presumably related to exposures received during the Gulf War. Many more veterans are suffering the debilitating symptoms of MS but have yet to have their illnesses properly diagnosed with appropriate and necessary medical tests."

"All of us at MSVETS would like to thank Senator Murray for introducing the MS Bill," said Ed Butler, co-founder of MSVETS and a board member of NGWRC. "We applaud her efforts to bring much needed relief and compensation to hundreds of Gulf War Veterans and their families that have fallen through the cracks of the VA's seven year presumptive rule for service connecting Multiple Sclerosis."



In September 2005, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that, “of the 700,000 U.S. troops who served [in Iraq] in 1991, a disproportionate number experienced serious neurological disorders." Whereas nationally, 1 in 700 people suffers from MS (.1%), the Post-Intelligencer reports that 3 in 36 (8%) soldiers who served near Julie Mock's battalion in Iraq have been diagnosed with MS, and one is suffering from an undiagnosed condition.

Background information on veterans benefits, MS, and Senator Murray's bill, follows:



WHAT DOES SENATOR MURRAY'S BILL DO?



The bill would remove the seven-year limitation for veterans trying to gain service-connected status for their multiple sclerosis. This legislation would ensure that a person diagnosed seven years and one day after their honorable discharge from the U.S. military will still get access to the VA treatment they need. Some veterans with MS have difficulty receiving care since the MS is not seen as service related. Veterans with MS should not be penalized because their symptoms were diagnosed more than 7 years after separation. Scientists aren’t 100% certain whether exposure to combat stress, experimental vaccines, toxins released from oil-well fires, sarin from the destruction of weapons caches, pesticides, pyridostigmine bromide pills (to protect against nerve gas), or some combination of any of these causes Multiple Sclerosis. There is a general consensus that MS is higher among Gulf War veterans than the general population. This bill will help veterans access the care they need by making MS a presumptive disability, no matter when its symptoms emerge.



WHAT IS A PRESUMPTIVE DISABILITY?



Sometimes veterans return from military service with physical and mental conditions that the VA presumes are linked to military service. This means that science hasn’t been able to connect a disease with service without a doubt, but there is sound scientific evidence that suggests there is a connection between exposures veterans experienced and a disease they developed later. The VA recognizes 41 chronic diseases for service-connected benefits, and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is one of those diseases – but only for 7 years after a veterans separated from service. This means that a veteran diagnosed with MS after the seven year window, has to prove their multiple sclerosis was directly connected to their service. Presumptive service connection is important to our veterans because it helps them qualify for the benefits they deserve so they can get appropriate treatment through the VA’s medical system.



WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY?



Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic neurological disease with symptoms ranging from clumsiness to blindness to numbness. The problem with the seven year limit for Multiple Sclerosis is that a person with MS may not show symptoms for years even though they have the disease. According to the VA’s MS Center of Excellence, “there is considerable evidence that MS precedes symptoms in most patients. Most patients with MS have several lesions [shown on an] MRI at the time of their first symptom.”



WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF AFFECTED VETERANS?



Approximately 700,000 U.S. service members were deployed to the Persian Gulf during the 1991 Gulf War. According to a 2000 VA study, Gulf veterans report being not as healthy as their military peers who were not deployed in the Persian Gulf. A September 2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article reported that, “of the 700,000 U.S. troops who served there in 1991, a disproportionate number experienced serious neurological disorders. More than 65 percent have sought health care for service-related ailments. Nearly 200,000 are receiving disability compensation -- twice the rate as vets from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.” Numbers of Persian Gulf War veterans diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis range, but according to the National Gulf War Resource Center, “the rate of multiple sclerosis is rising among Gulf War veterans.”

................................................
Sign Up! to receive Veterans Updates from Senator Murray.