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For and about Hawaii's military

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Service-tied MS merits
VA medical benefits

Question: I am a veteran diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. What Veterans Affairs benefits and programs are available for me?

Answer: Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease of the brain and spinal cord. The illness is thought to result from an autoimmune attack on the central nervous system focused on myelin, which is a protective coating on nerves. There is no cure for this disease, though drugs can help slow the course of the disease or symptoms in some patients. Almost 350,000 Americans have MS and about 200 new cases are diagnosed each week. VA medical centers treat at least 22,000 MS patients each year. More than 11,193 veterans receive disability compensation for this illness.

To qualify for VA disability compensation for MS, a veteran must have a current diagnosis of the disease and there must be evidence that it developed in service or to a compensable degree within seven years following separation from active duty. To get health care, veterans generally must be enrolled with VA. Veterans with MS are eligible for VA health care and are exempt from co-payment requirements for hospital and outpatient medical services if they are receiving compensation for any service-connected disability, receiving care for a service-connected disability, or if their income is at or below the congressionally established income limits.

These veterans might be subject to co-payments for medication. Veterans exempted from medication co-payments are those whose service-connected conditions are 50 percent or greater, whose medication is for their service condition or whose income level is at or below the pension threshold. More information about benefits and programs is available at 433-1000 or the VA Web site at

Q: I heard that the VA has modified its priority system. I am a Priority 7 veteran and how will this affect me?

A: The VA health care programs enhancement act, signed into law in January 2002, required VA to create a new category of veterans that takes into consideration the high costs of living in many parts of the United States. Under the new system, VA will use two priority groups, 7 and 8, to replace the current Priority 7 group.

The redefined Priority 7 group will consist of veterans who have no service-connected disability rating or who are officially categorized as "noncompensable 0-percent service-connected." Veterans in the new Priority 7 must have incomes that exceed VA's national income threshold ($24,644 in 2003 for a single veteran, $29,576 for a veteran with a single dependent) but are below a geographically based income threshold set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for public housing benefits.

All other veterans who previously were in Priority Group 7 will be in a new Priority Group 8. Veterans in this group continue to make the full co-payment and will include noncompensable, 0-percent service-connected veterans and nonservice-connected veterans.

Veterans currently receiving VA care will receive a letter informing them of any changes to their enrollment group assignment or their medical care co-payment status by early this year. For further information, call 433-0600 or visit the VA Web site at

If you have questions about your benefits as a veteran,
call Fred Ballard at the Veterans Affairs at 433-0049
or visit the VA Web site at
or the Star-Bulletin at 529-4747.

Gregg K. Kakesako, who covers military affairs for the Star-Bulletin,
can be reached by phone at 294-4075
or by e-mail at

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