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Multiple Sclerosis in Veterans

Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a chronic, inflammatory disease of the central nervous system, is a silent but disruptive disease impacting military veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with its mission to provide the highest quality of care to the veterans it serves, provides a comprehensive and holistic approach to treating MS.

Studies estimate the prevalence of MS in veterans is 2.5 times higher than the general population. A gender-based disparity also exists with male veterans being more likely to be diagnosed with MS compared to males in the general population. This disparity is assumed to be associated with several military service-related risk factors that may trigger MS development in individuals susceptible to the disease including environmental contact with certain toxins, chronic stress and trauma, head injuries, and infectious disease exposure.

In light of the risks military service members take during their time in the service, the United States Government now presumes a veteran’s MS diagnosis is service-connected when either symptoms first begin or a formal diagnosis is made during the soldier’s active military service or within seven years after a honorable discharge.

Patient-centered care offered by the VA is most outwardly apparent at the VA MS Centers of Excellence (MS COE), which is a network of 19 specialized medical centers spread across the United States. While each medical center is located within an existing VA medical center, it functions as a distinctive unit within the broader VA healthcare system. All veterans diagnosed with MS are eligible to receive their care at a MS COE and, unlike other services provided by the VA, there is no residency requirement to be seen at a clinic in the network.

The MS COE structure benefits patients diagnosed with MS by granting access to a full team of specialist in a single location. Generally, each site is staffed with neurologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and social workers. Through the standardization and coordination of care through shared protocols and guidelines across the MS COE medical centers, veterans receive equal and consistent care regardless of which medical center they utilize. The integrated medical team also helps connect veterans with opportunities to participate in clinical trials that allow patients access to new treatments that may not be available through traditional commercial providers. Since the MS diagnosis does not have to be classified as a service-connected disability to access care at a MS COE site, the full range of these services is available to all veterans diagnosed with this disease.

Through its centralized care model, the VA decreases the burdens associated with management of a chronic illness to include simplifying tasks like coordinating appointments and managing prescriptions for its patients. This comprehensive approach to care with the backing of a full and complete multidisciplinary team allows for a higher degree of continuity of care for both veterans with MS and their families.


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