Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) is recognizing March as multiple sclerosis (MS) awareness month. As part of our awareness outreach, we are posting about the symptoms, testing options, and strategies of what to do after receiving an MS diagnosis. Also, learn about the benefits that the VA offers to veterans with MS that they may be unaware of.
The symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) vary widely, depending on the location of affected nerve fibers.
These are some of the signs and symptoms associated with MS:
- Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs, which typically occurs on one side of the body at a time or the bottom half of the body
- Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at a time, often with pain during eye movement
- Double vision or blurring of vision
- Tingling or pain in numb areas of the body
- Electric-shock sensations that occur with certain head movements
- Tremors, lack of coordination or unsteady gait
In some cases, people with MS may also develop muscle stiffness or spasticity, slurred speech, paralysis or problems with bladder, bowel or sexual function. Mental changes such as forgetfulness or difficulties with concentration also can occur.
MS is often difficult to diagnose. This is because there’s no single test or finding on the examination that can lead to a diagnosis and because the disorder varies from person to person.
In most cases, there is a history of neurological symptoms that come and go over years. A neurological examination may show changes that suggest problems with the spinal cord or brain. An MRI may show areas of abnormality that suggest MS, though the MRI in itself does not make the diagnosis.
Spinal fluid testing may show that the immune system is active in and around the brain and spinal cord, supporting the diagnosis. Evoked potential tests, which measure the brain’s electrical activity in response to stimulation of specific sensory nerve pathways, may assist in diagnosis.
All of these need to be put together by a physician to determine if MS is the actual diagnosis. Even when all the tests are done, some people still remain undiagnosed for years after the beginning of symptoms.
Create A Timeline
In MS, the body incorrectly directs antibodies and white blood cells against proteins in the myelin sheath, which surrounds nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
This causes inflammation and injury to the sheath and ultimately to the nerves the sheath surrounds. The result may be multiple areas of scarring (sclerosis). Eventually, this damage can slow or block the nerve signals that control muscle coordination, strength, sensation and vision.
So, the key to obtaining service connection is to create a timeline of your illnesses that, when reflected on by a physician, can be attributed as being possible early signs of MS.
You should create the timeline of your illness just as you would if you were attempting to trace your family heritage. Only in this scenario, your starting point should be your active service tenure.
If you think your MS is related to active duty, do the following:
- Obtain any records from private physicians who treated you for MS symptoms.
- Obtain written statements from friends, fellow soldiers and family members who may recall your ailments or changes in your physical condition.
The basis for establishing early symptoms is to show that you may have experienced some ailments during the seven-year presumptive period that when reflected upon can now be medically determined as early signs of MS.
The VA provides health care services to veterans with MS from the time of diagnosis throughout their life, whether or not they have a service-connected or non-service connected status. If an individual had symptoms of MS in the military, or within seven years after honorable discharge, he/she may be eligible for service-connected disability.
If you served in the armed forces and have been diagnosed with MS, you may want to take a look at the possibility of filing a claim. If the VA agrees there’s sufficient evidence to warrant service connection for MS, a rating decision will be completed, awarding service connection for this condition with a minimum evaluation of 30%. The percentage assigned will depend on the evidence and the severity of the disease and/or residuals, since the VA may also provide a percentage for residuals/conditions that are related to the MS diagnosis.
Click here to read more about what benefits the VA offers veterans with MS.
Original article body authored by Navy veteran, Kimberly Springfield, Paralyzed Veterans' Health and Benefits Specialist II at the Michael DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston.