Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease has been all over social media lately due to “Ice Bucket Challenge” videos attempting to raise awareness and funds for research. ALS is a devastating progressive neurodegenerative disease which affects nerve cells in the spinal cord and the brain.
As I’m sure you know, qualifying for VA benefits is sometimes a long and difficult task. Interestingly, the Department of Veterans Affairs has an incredibly favorable regulation governing benefits for veterans suffering from ALS which removes some of the barriers commonly faced by veterans attempting to gain benefits for other disabilities.
For most disabilities, a veteran must prove that his current disability either began during service or was caused by something that happened while he was in service. In certain circumstances, the veteran must only prove that his service meets certain requirements (such as service in Vietnam and/or exposure to Agent Orange or service in the Persian Gulf). Then if that veteran develops one of a number of disabilities that VA lists as being caused by that type of service, he is presumed to be service-connected for that disability.
For ALS, however, the veteran need not prove anything. Essentially, the VA’s ALS regulation provides that service connection will be automatic for almost any veteran who is ever diagnosed with ALS. There is no time limit in which ALS must be diagnosed. A veteran can be diagnosed 10 or 15 years after discharge and still be entitled to service connection for ALS.
The only requirement the veteran must meet in order to qualify for service-connection for ALS under the VA’s regulation is that the veteran must have served for at least ninety (90) days. The only way for VA to deny service connection for a qualifying veteran is to find affirmative evidence that ALS wasn’t incurred during service or that the veteran’s ALS is due to willful misconduct. Both of these scenarios are highly unlikely to occur as it would be nearly impossible to prove either one.
Unfortunately, one other stumbling block is that the ALS regulation currently only applies to veterans of one of the major branches of service and has been determined not to apply to members of the National Guard or Reservists…even those who were called to active duty for more than 90 days. This issue, however, is currently being litigated in the courts, and we are hopeful that in the future any veteran who has 90 days of active duty will be entitled to the protections of this regulation.