Coons, Murkowski introduce bill to help surviving spouses of veterans who died from ALS

Legislation would fix unfair policy that denies benefits to widows and widowers of veterans who died from ALS

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced the Justice for ALS Veterans Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure surviving spouses and families of veterans who die from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) receive the full benefits they are owed. Companion legislation was introduced in the House by U.S. Representatives Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
“Our current policy denies benefits to spouses and families of veterans with ALS if they did not survive at least eight years with the disease. This is a cruel policy that fails to recognize the significant sacrifices these veterans and their families have made for this country,” said Senator Coons. “I’m proud to introduce bipartisan legislation with Senator Murkowski to solve this glaring problem. People living with ALS and their families face challenges that demand more from all of us.”
“ALS is a cruel and unforgiving disease. The average life expectancy for a person living with the disease is short – only two to five years from the time of diagnosis. But the impact this disease and the loss of a loved one can have on spouses and family will remain far beyond their passing,” said Senator Murkowski.  “We have a responsibility to do all we can to care for our veterans and their families, regardless of how long the veteran lived with ALS prior to their passing. I am proud to stand in support of the ALS community by joining Senator Coons in leading this legislation.”
According to the ALS Association, military veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS as those who haven’t served in the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides an additional monthly financial benefit to the surviving spouse and family of a deceased veteran who had a service-connected disability rated totally disabling for a continuous period of at least eight years immediately preceding death. The additional benefit is a part of a Dependency and Indemnity Compensation payment and is crucial funding that helps widows and widowers manage the financial difficulties of losing a spouse.
VA regulations recognize ALS as a presumptive service-connected disease and, due to its aggressive nature, it is automatically rated at 100 percent disabling once service-connected. However, because the average life expectancy for a person with ALS is two to five years, many spouses of deceased veterans with ALS do not qualify for this additional benefit given the eight-year requirement. The Justice for ALS Veterans Act would extend increased Dependency and Indemnity Compensation payments to surviving spouses of veterans who die from ALS, regardless of how long a veteran had ALS prior to death.
"In the United States, one in six people living with ALS has served as a member of our military.  These veterans have given so much and ALS impacts the entire family.  We stand firmly behind this bill which would right a wrong by extending benefits to the surviving caregiver, no matter how long the person battles ALS,” said Danielle Carnival, CEO, I AM ALS.
“The ALS Association wholeheartedly supports this bill to increase compensation for surviving spouses of veterans who die from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Veterans are twice as likely to die of ALS as civilians. ALS is a devastating disease that impacts not only the person living with ALS but their entire family and causes great financial stress. Congress should pass this bill immediately,” said Calaneet Balas, President and CEO, The ALS Association.
"We do not believe survivors should be deprived of a benefit simply because the service-connected disease their veterans acquired made it nearly impossible for them to meet an eight-year life expectancy requirement. PVA thanks Senators Coons and Murkowski for their leadership in introducing the Justice for ALS Veterans Act,”said Heather Ansley, Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“The aggressiveness of ALS leaves many veterans totally incapacitated and reliant on family caregivers. Even in the best scenarios, most generally do not live past the eight years currently required for their survivors to become eligible for additional compensation. DAV supports the Justice for ALS Veterans Act as it would provide survivors that additional compensation, regardless of how long the veteran was rated 100% for ALS prior to death, creating equity for families who have suffered with the veteran through the sudden and catastrophic effects of this disease,” said Shane Liermann, Deputy National Legislative Director, DAV.
ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that destroys the body’s ability to control muscle movement. There is no known cause and no cure.