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The Department of Veterans Affairs and Parkinson's Disease

As a progressive and incurable disease affecting both movement and coordination, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease is a particularly heavy burden on veterans accustomed to being active. Studies suggest a veteran’s risk of developing this neurodegenerative disorder is two times that compared to the general population. To support individuals, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers comprehensive care, from diagnosis to ongoing treatment, at its networks of medical centers and community care clinics.


Health Care Needs Among Veterans With Parkinson’s Disease

Source: Federal Practitioner


When an individual first begins to display symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, the VA employs a multidisciplinary approach to finalizing the diagnosis and initial treatment plan. Appointments with neurologists, physiatrists, psychiatrists, psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and other specialists are common to create a personalized treatment plan, thereby ensuring early interventions minimize symptoms and help avoid future complications. Each intervention is aimed to manage current symptoms and improve mobility all while maintaining a patient’s independence.


An integrated care approach and an emphasis on helping each patient find a supportive community are particular strengths of the VA. In the VA healthcare system, primary care and specialty care are coordinated, which ultimately eliminates fragmentation in care. Unique to the VA is its ability to incorporate and coordinate a veteran’s care for both a Parkinson’s diagnosis into the care being received for additional health challenges due to their military service, such as combat-related injuries and substance abuse issues. Through its support groups and peer mentoring programs, each patient can find a supportive community of individuals who understand the challenges of being a veteran who is living with Parkinson's.


In 2001, the VA established the Parkinson's Disease Research, Education and Clinical Centers (PD RECCs) that now include six specialized centers spread-out through the continental United States. Functioning as Centers of Excellence within the VA healthcare system, the PD RECCs focus on providing cutting edge clinical services, leading innovative research with other academic institutions to include forming a knowledge-sharing network, and educating both healthcare professionals and patients through conferences and workshops. In particular, a veteran can access specialized care at the PD RECCs, including advanced therapies, such as deep brain stimulation. The VA is also actively exploring the use of technology to improve Parkinson's care, such as issuing wearable sensors.


Generally, the VA provides healthcare at a significantly lower cost to the individual patient than most private systems. As a progressive disease with an on-going requirement for specialty care, the lowered patient financial responsibility can be a major advantage for diagnosed veterans. Medication co-pays, in particular, are significantly less than those found in the commercial marketplace.


The VA plays a vital role in supporting veterans living with Parkinson's disease. Through its comprehensive care programs, research initiatives, and dedication to community support, the VA's approach to Parkinson's care stands out. The VA's commitment to continuous improvement and collaboration with its patients further empowers veterans to navigate the challenges of this complex disease.

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