Springfield, Oregon resident Michael Williamson — a U.S. Air Force veteran with 14 years of service — filed suit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), claiming the agency has failed to meet its obligation to provide him with continuous care for his 100 percent service-connected disability.
Michael has received life-sustaining in-home care for his ALS for nearly seventeen years through a local provider that contracts with the VA Homemaker Home Health Aide Services (HHHA).
In November, the provider, New Horizons, notified Michael that it would terminate his care effective February 14, 2018. Instead of finding a new provider or enforcing the contract with New Horizons, the VA offered to move Michael into nursing homes in San Francisco, Seattle, or Boise – hundreds of miles from his family home and family. The lawsuit charges the VA failed to follow federal law including the VA’s own regulations.
In 1988, Michael was put on a temporary duty assignment in Iraq, where he was part of the effort to provide security for humanitarian aid due to the Iraq and Iran conflict. He was then deployed to Saudi Arabia before, during, and after Desert Storm. Eleven years after serving in Iraq, he received a diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and was forced to retire from the armed services.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a fatal, devastating, progressive, neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The illness destroys muscles, taking away peoples’ ability to move, speak, eat, and breathe while leaving their mind intact. Mike receives 24-hour-a-day care services, supervised by a nurse, in his home. The in-home care attendants make sure his ventilator is working properly, use his feeding tube to administer meals and medications, and attend to all of his daily care needs, such as bathing, dressing, and moving.
The same year that Michael retired from the Air Force, he received 100 percent permanent and total service-connected disability benefits. Federal law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and requires that disability programs that receive federal dollars provide services in the most integrated setting appropriate to the person’s needs. The lawsuit requests that the VA provide Michael options in his own community rather than moving him to another state.