A rating change since 2008 increases monthly compensation and entitles veterans with ALS to additional benefits.
On Sept. 23, 2008, the secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) established amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as a presumptive service-connected disease for all veterans who serve 90 continuous days of active-duty military service.
Also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive neuromuscular disease. It results in degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leading to muscle weakness, atrophy, speech impairment, difficulty swallowing and breathing impairment.
How Much Does VA Pay?
VA originally assigned a minimum rating of 30% under the Schedule for Rating Disabilities in Title 38 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) § 4.124 (a) when service connection had been granted. The rating could be higher based on the level of disability.
The minimum rating for ALS has changed since 2008, based on the final ruling published in the Federal Register on Dec. 20, 2011. The change amended the Schedule for Rating Disabilities by revising the disability evaluation criterion for ALS to provide an evaluation of 100% for any veteran with service-connected ALS. The effective date of this change was Jan. 19, 2012.
The change not only increases the veteran’s monthly compensation payment amount; the 100% rating will entitle the veteran to additional benefits, such as Dependents Educational Assistance (DEA), eligibility for dental care, eligibility for the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA (CHAMPVA), possible waiver of life insurance premiums, commissary privileges, and free license plates.
Due to the nature of this rapidly progressing disease, the 100% immediate rating is crucial to veterans who have ALS.
VA is treating ALS claims as a priority, with expeditious processing.
Every PVA national service officer (NSO) is working closely with veterans, VA and the ALS Association to identify veterans with ALS and ensure they are granted any benefits they may be entitled to. NSOs are assisting veterans with claims development such as completing VA applications, obtaining the necessary military discharge documents, and requesting medical records.
Once a claim is submitted, the NSO will aggressively track it to ensure it’s completed in a timely manner. NSOs will also assist in enrollment in the VA Healthcare System.
How to Become Service Connected for ALS
Service connection for ALS does have some minimum requirements.
The veteran must have a formal diagnosis of the disease and have served at least 90 days of continuous active duty. Active duty for training purposes, such as basic training, military occupational specialty (MOS) schools or reserve training exercises do not satisfy the 90-day requirement.
A reservist must have been called to active duty for a period of at least 90 days, other than training. The veteran must also have a discharge or release from service under conditions other than dishonorable.
Are There Additional Benefits?
Yes, there is Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) provided by VA.
SMC is monetary compensation (paid in addition to the regular VA Disability Compensation) to veterans who, as a result of their service-connected disabilities, incurred the loss or loss of use of specific organs or extremities. Loss is described as an amputation. Loss of use is determined by VA when there is no effective function remaining in an organ or extremity.
VA will pay SMC for the following disabilities:
- Loss or loss of use of a hand or foot
- Blindness in one eye (having light perception only)
- Loss or loss of use of a reproductive organ (including loss of breast tissue)
- Complete loss or loss of use of both buttocks
- Deafness in both ears (having ab-sence of air and bone conduction)
- Immobility of a joint or paralysis
- Inability to speak (complete organic aphonia)
- The need for aid and attendance of another person
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
VA will pay higher rates for combinations of these disabilities. Combinations of extremities can increase the amount of SMC. Additional amounts are also paid for bilateral blindness combined with deafness; or paraplegia with loss of bowel and bladder control.
VA also offers some ancillary benefits to eligible veterans such as:
- The Specially Adapted Housing Grant (SAH), three times up to an aggregate amount of $63,780
- Special Home Adaptation Grant (SHA), which is $12,756
- Home Improvement and Structural Alterations Grant (HISA), which is $6,800
- Automobile Grant (AG), which is $18,900
- Annual Clothing Allowance (ACA), which is $741
Does VA Pay Survivors?
In addition to benefits paid to eligible veterans, VA offers monetary benefits to eligible survivors of veterans.
Surviving spouses, children, and dependent parents may be eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). The veteran must meet the requirements for service connection of ALS. The death certificate must document ALS as the cause of death, or a contributory factor.
Surviving spouses are eligible for this benefit as long as they do not remarry prior to age 57, and they were married to the veteran for at least one year or had a child with the veteran. The basic benefit rate is currently $1,195 per month tax-free. Surviving spouses are eligible for an additional amount per child and additional amounts if they have dependent children, are housebound, or need regular aid and attendance.
Surviving children in college and dependent parents can be eligible for this benefit, provided they meet the eligibility requirements.
For more information, contact a PVA national service officer or visit pva.org.
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