SGT. SHAFT: Wife of veteran with Lou Gehrig’s disease seeks benefits

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

My name is Elisabeth. I am 30 years old and married to the man of my dreams. Unfortunately, my 29-year-old husband has ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease), which is a service-connected terminal illness. He was diagnosed almost exactly one year ago today. Over the course of this year, I have watched him go from a vibrant, young man full of promise and life to a man barely able to walk, swallow or talk.

I quit my job a bit over a month ago to stay at home and take care of him — the VA only granted him two hours of aid and attendance a day, yet he cannot button or zipper pants, carry a plate to the table, open a jar or get up without assistance when he falls.

It is almost more than one can be expected to bear, but we have already been denied a specially adapted housing grant that would have allowed him to use his power chair in our house. We were denied because my husband can still walk, but just barely — he could not even walk a quarter mile by himself.

I don’t think the VA understands how terrible this disease is. Because he can still walk at all, we found out yesterday that his claim for a specially adapted van was going to be denied. We have asked the VA to reconsider, and we will find out in eight days whether they will give us the van. I really need you to help us fight this. My husband has a terminal, service-related illness, and has been assessed at 100 percent permanent and total disability.

Please, please, please help us by calling on our behalf to whatever powers that be at the VA. We really cannot afford to purchase the van, and we have no other way of getting his power chair around. He is too weak to use a manual chair. We are working with our incredible VA social worker to find other monies to fund the changes we need to our house, but still really need help getting van money pushed through.

Elisabeth S.
Via the Internet

Dear Elizabeth:

I have contacted the powers that be at the VA on your behalf and they have assured me that they will review your husband’s claim and ensure he is receiving the maximum benefit to which he is entitled. Please keep me informed.

Shaft notes

• Congratulations to Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center Director Brian A. Hawkins, who has been named the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) “Communications Visionary of the Year.” This award recognizes the VA Medical Center leader’s innovative techniques and achievements in communications and public relations. The honor reflects the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center’s (DCVAMC) success in communicating VA health care programs and services throughout the hospital’s service area, which includes Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, suburban Maryland and southern Maryland.

Mr. Hawkins initiated a new branding campaign, “Capitol Excellence,” when he took over as Medical Center director in September 2011. The “Capitol Excellence” theme is supported by three guiding principles for the Medical Center – Employee Engagement, Operational Excellence and Cultural Transformation.

Mr. Hawkins is a management leader who supports a vital communications program. He believes it is key to achieving quality in health care and excellent patient and employee satisfaction. He has introduced dynamic changes to enhance communications and to encourage a culture of engagement among veterans, employees and community partners.

“I believe communications helps to foster strong relationships. And, this year, we’ve seen that happen among our VA Medical Center, military treatment facilities, area-wide hospitals, congressional representatives and staff, and veteran service organizations,” he said.

The DCVAMC’s Public Affairs Office was also recognized with a third place award in the Communications Campaign category for its overall “Capitol Excellence” campaign, which included media marketing on radio and television, billboard and print advertising, web and social media placement, a pep rally to launch the new theme and enhanced signage throughout the Medical Center campus.

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