Coons, Murkowski, Whitehouse, Rounds reintroduce legislation to support spouses of veterans who died from ALS

Legislation would fix policy to ensure access to benefits for surviving spouses of veterans who died from ALS

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), founding members of the Senate Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) Caucus, reintroduced the Justice for ALS Veterans Act alongside Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). This bipartisan measure would guarantee that surviving spouses of veterans receive all benefits due to them. This bill was previously introduced in January 2022 in the 117th Congress by Senators Coons and Murkowski.

 “ALS is a particularly cruel and brutal disease that takes the lives of thousands of Americans each year, including many veterans who have sacrificed so much for this nation,” said ALS Caucus Co-Chair Senator Coons. “Denying the families of veterans who succumb to this disease because of a bureaucratic test shortly after the death of a parent, spouse, or other loved one is simply adding insult to injury. Our military families deserve so much better, and that’s why I’m working with Senator Murkowski to ensure families impacted by ALS have access to the benefits they rightfully deserve.” 

 “The average life expectancy for a person living with the cruel and unforgiving disease ALS is short, but the impact of the disease and toll of losing a loved one can remain with a family forever. I’ve made it a priority to support our veterans and their families, including those who have bravely battled ALS. I urge my colleagues in Congress to support this important measure for the sake of our veterans who pass from ALS, and the loved ones they leave behind,” said Senator Murkowski.

 “It takes tremendous courage from patients, spouses, and families to cope with an ALS diagnosis – a relentless and debilitating disease that is twice as likely to affect veterans,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I’m pleased to join Senators Coons and Murkowski on the bipartisan Justice for ALS Veterans Act, which would cut down bureaucracy to ensure the families of veterans with ALS receive the full survivor benefits they are due.”

 “Our men and women in uniform have made incredible sacrifices so that we can be free,” said Senator Rounds. “We have a responsibility to provide them with the benefits they have earned when their service is completed. Under current law, many veterans diagnosed with ALS do not survive the eight years that the VA requires in order for their loved ones to receive full benefits. This bill would extend increased VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) to the surviving spouse of a veteran who died from service-connected ALS, regardless of how long the veteran had the disease prior to death. I am pleased to work with Senator Coons on this bipartisan legislation to make certain military families receive their earned benefits.”

 Currently, the surviving spouse and family of a deceased veteran who had a service-connected disability deemed fully debilitating for a continuous period of at least eight years prior to death receive an additional monthly financial benefit from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, the average life expectancy for an individual diagnosed with ALS is just two to five years after diagnosis, resulting in many families in which ALS-diagnosed veterans did not reach the eight-year threshold allowing family members access to this benefit. The Justice for ALS Veterans Act would ensure surviving spouses of veterans who die from ALS receive these payments, regardless of how long a veteran had ALS prior to death.

 Veterans are at least twice as likely to develop ALS as the general public. That means those who enlisted in the military are at least twice as likely to experience ALS, a merciless illness that is currently 100% fatal.

 “For our military veterans, the chances of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are significantly higher than it is for those who have not served in the armed forces. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that is always fatal, usually within two to five years. Therefore, it is imperative that our nation supports veterans living with ALS, and their families, by passing the Justice for ALS Veterans Act. Surviving families should not be penalized from receiving increased compensation due to the fast progression of ALS,” said Calanet Balas, President and CEO, the ALS Association.

 “Denying benefits to the surviving spouses of ALS veterans because they were unable to survive long enough to meet an arbitrary timeline is a disservice to the veteran community and their families. PVA thanks Senators Coons and Murkowski for the reintroduction of the Justice for ALS Veterans Act, which would ensure that ALS survivors are able to receive the additional compensation afforded to other survivors,” said Heather Ansley, Associate Executive Director of Government Relations, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).

 “The VA recognizes ALS as a presumptive service-connected disease and, due to its aggressive nature, automatically rates any diagnosed veteran at 100% once it’s determined to be service-connected. After diagnosis, individuals with ALS have an average lifespan of two to five years. Sadly, many veterans are unable to meet DIC’s eight-year requirement for the additional amounts payable to survivors. The Justice for ALS Veterans Act would allow survivors of veterans who pass away due to service-connected ALS to receive that additional monthly compensation, regardless of the length of time it was service-connected. DAV applauds Senator Coons for his efforts in providing justice for ALS veterans and their families,” said Jim Marszalek, National Service Director, Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

 “ALS is a 100% service-connected disease; veterans are twice as likely to be diagnosed. In addition to the tragic, debilitating, and 100% fatal diagnosis, loved ones of veterans with ALS are being denied financial resources under current law because of the rapid progression,” said Brian Wallach, advocate and founder of the advocacy organization I AM ALS, who is living with the disease. “We greatly appreciate the bipartisan leadership and continued dedication of Senators Coons and Murkowski to the ALS and veteran communities, and wholeheartedly support the Justice for ALS Veterans Act. This important legislation will ensure all survivors of veterans who died from ALS will receive the benefits they are due for their service to our country.”