News Releases

Senator Murray Introduces Bill to Help Veterans with Multiple Sclerosis Get Benefits

Mar 13 2007

Legislation Cuts Red Tape by lifting the VA's 7-year Limit to Qualify for Automatic VA Benefits

Murray's Bill Addresses the High Rate of MS Among Veterans; Legislation is endorsed by MSVETS and National Gulf War Resource Center

(Washington, D.C.) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) reintroduced legislation to help more veterans who have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) qualify for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Under current law, veterans have a deadline of seven years after being honorably discharged to connect their MS to their military service. Murray's bill would remove the seven-year limitation.



"This arbitrary deadline is another example of the unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles our veterans face when they return home," said Senator Murray. "This bill institutes a common sense approach that gives our veterans every opportunity they need to get the coverage they deserve. Especially now, as the administration continues to shortchange veterans, we need to make sure that we are opening doors to coverage rather than closing them."



A disproportionate number of veterans from the first Gulf War are developing symptoms of MS, but they often face difficulty obtaining disability benefits from the VA. 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.



"I applaud Senator Murray for working to clear the path to VA benefits for those of us with MS," said Julie Mock, a leading advocate for fellow Gulf War veterans who suffer from MS. "I have watched too many fellow veterans struggle to get VA benefits simply because the debilitating symptoms of MS showed up late or were not properly diagnosed. We cannot force future veterans to endure the same arduous process."



"Senator Murray has been a great champion of veterans with Multiple Sclerosis." said Ed Butler, co-founder of MSVETS and a board member of NGWRC. "We thank the Senator for her continued efforts and support to end the VA's seven year presumptive rule for service connected to Multiple Sclerosis. We pray that others will follow the Senator's lead and support this bill and our nation's veterans."



"The environmental assault that those of us endured in the 1991 Gulf War is very evident and is reverberated throughout the Middle East," Butler said. "This indicates that the disease may take longer than seven years to develop. Senator Murray has had the foresight to forge forward in context to the changing science and our veteran's needs."



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 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."