Sens. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced on Dec. 18 the Justice for ALS Veterans Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure surviving spouses and families of veterans who die from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis receive the full benefits they are owed.

Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Reps. Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr., D-California, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania.

“Our current policy denies benefits to spouses and families of veterans with ALS if they did not survive at least eight years with the disease,” said Coons. “This is a cruel policy that fails to recognize the significant sacrifices these veterans and their families have made for this country. I’m proud to introduce bipartisan legislation with Sen. Murkowski to solve this glaring problem. People living with ALS and their families face challenges that demand more from all of us.”

ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that destroys the body’s ability to control muscle movement. There is no known cause and no cure.

According to the ALS Association, military veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS as those who haven’t served in the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides an additional monthly financial benefit to the surviving spouse and family of a deceased veteran who had a service-connected disability rated totally disabling for a continuous period of at least eight years immediately preceding death. The additional benefit is a part of a Dependency and Indemnity Compensation payment and is crucial funding that helps widows and widowers manage the financial difficulties of losing a spouse.

VA regulations recognize ALS as a presumptive service-connected disease and, due to its aggressive nature, it is automatically rated at 100 percent disabling once service-connected. However, because the average life expectancy for a person with ALS is two to five years, many spouses of deceased veterans with ALS do not qualify for this additional benefit given the eight-year requirement. The Justice for ALS Veterans Act would extend increased Dependency and Indemnity Compensation payments to surviving spouses of veterans who die from ALS, regardless of how long a veteran had ALS prior to death.