Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials at the Wm. Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, SC, announced a new policy that will greatly benefit veterans with certain serious conditions. Under the new policy, all prosthetics orders involving veterans with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis (MS) will be placed as emergency requests, and vendors will now be required to expedite these orders.
The policy change comes just weeks after congressional testimony given by Paralyzed Veterans of America's National President Bill Lawson addressing these specific issues.
In oral and written testimony before the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees, Lawson expressed Paralyzed Veterans’ concern regarding recent changes that have been made to the VA Prosthetic and Sensory Aids Service—changes that have resulted in delayed delivery of prosthetic devices, diminishing of quality service delivery for disabled veterans, and prolonged hospital stays for veterans waiting for prosthetic equipment.
“We have heard complaints from many of our members who have been negatively impacted by this change. It is time for the Committees to take an active role in the oversight of these prosthetics changes,” Lawson said.
Lawson’s testimony was based on a growing number of reports of veterans with ALS facing delayed or denied requests for items like ventilators and whole house generators after VA implemented sweeping changes to the authorization policy for such requests, thus adding weeks, even months in some cases, to the process.
Although larger procurements like powered wheelchairs and porch lifts represent a small percentage of the total workload for VA, they represent the most critical equipment needed by the majority of Paralyzed Veterans’ members. Delays in these procurements prove costly both to the government, in terms of unnecessarily extended hospital stays while awaiting equipment, and to veterans, in terms of lost independence and quality of life.
“VA failed to consider the needs of the most vulnerable veterans when it changed—and basically extended—its acquisition and procurement policies in 2011," said Sherman Gillums, Paralyzed Veterans’ associate executive director of Veterans Benefits. "Quality of life for a veteran with ALS is just as critical as it is for veterans who are not facing terminal illness. By now expediting their prosthetics requests, VA becomes part of the reason these men and women can enjoy some semblance of life satisfaction as they bravely confront illness.”
Paralyzed Veterans of America advocates for nationwide expansion of an “expedited handling” prosthetics policy for all veterans with catastrophic conditions, such as ALS, MS and spinal cord injury and disease.
Paralyzed Veterans of America currently has 69 national service offices nationwide. Veterans can contact a service office to speak with a national service officer (NSO) to ensure that they are receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. All NSOs are highly trained in VA law, benefits and health care.
Sherman Gillums, Jr. is Associate Executive Director of Veterans Benefits for Paralyzed Veterans of America