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Veteran says VA hospital makes his multiple sclerosis a little easier to handle

Philip White, 61, retired Air Force officer, sings the praises of the Veterans Administration hospital system. The system has helped him navigate his battle with MS for 20 years with fast diagnosis and up-to-date treatments.

There’s a reason Philip White, 61, who has wrestled for 20 years with multiple sclerosis, sings the praises of the Veterans Administration hospital system.

Since he was diagnosed, everything he has needed, the VA has provided.

In 1995, he began to notice a weakness on his left side. He was ready to chalk it up to fatigue from a rough schedule in his job with the U.S. Air Force inspector general.

In his job, he flew a lot, did a lot of investigations, listened to a lot of complaints. He noticed he had a rougher time on very hot days or in the heat of flying in the back of C130 transport planes, which weren’t air-conditioned.

That was tolerable, he said. What wasn’t tolerable, “I got home and and I’m playing with my daughter, and I’m feeling this weakness in my leg; I was getting weaker and weaker. I blamed it on jet lag.”

In November 1995, his wife, Bernadette White, gave the orders. They visited an Air Force doctor and got the news: It looked like multiple sclerosis. With that, he was grounded. His job didn’t allow for him to be in a condition that couldn’t handle flight or the rigorous schedule.

“On the IG team, you had to be in perfect condition,” he said. “Team members have to inspect everyone else. We have to be on top of our game. We can’t even take an aspirin without getting permission from the flight surgeon.”

Doctors in the VA St. Louis Health Care System’s John Cochran Division confirmed the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

In 1996, he retired after 26 ½ years in the Air Force. “Some opportunities opened up for me,” he said. He started a junior Air Force ROTC in Peoria, Ill., and a short time later, moved to a program in St. Louis.

Maybe it’s an understatement, but White might as well have said “big deal” when he heard the diagnosis. He went on with life as if nothing were wrong.

“I was diagnosed with MS. I won’t take ownership,” he said.

He decided to use that can-do attitude to become a lay counselor for the hospital, talking to veterans who have developed MS and seek help at Cochran Division.

“I tell them if they don’t manage their MS, the MS is going to manage you,” he said.

He speaks around the area once or twice a month. Every Monday he’s at the Regional MS Center for Excellence at Cochran, which serves veterans with MS from four states.

“I believe in the VA system,” he said. “I’ve had nothing but success there. I’ve had several surgeries there. It’s a good system, and President Obama put a gazillion dollars in it for returning veterans.”

Dr. Florian Thomas, professor of neurology at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, heads the VA’s MS Center for Excellence at Cochran, one of the few MS clinics in the United States.

He says he marvels at the fast diagnosis White received. “In the private sector, this can take years for MS to be established,” he said. “With MS, the symptoms are vague. If the symptoms are mild and temporary, patients don’t go to primary care doctor; primary care doctors don’t send patients to neurologists.

“That’s important because we’ve established that early treatment of MS improves the prognosis.”

MS is a disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. White says he still wrestles with his condition; it affects his ability to walk as well as he’d like. “I have good days and bad days,” he says. “Some days I have a cane because of balance. Some days I know not to get out in 95-degree weather without a cooling vest.”

Another advantage with the VA, says White, is that he doesn’t have to wrestle with insurance companies over drugs or treatments.

Thomas agreed. “In the federal system, anything that’s approved by the FDA is available to veterans, regardless of the cost,” he said.

MS treatments can run $20,000 to $60,000 a year depending on the severity of the disease and a person’s medical insurance. Experts believe about 250,000 to 350,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with MS. About 200 new cases are diagnosed each week.

White is taking pills now and represents the manufacturer as a spokesman on the effectiveness of pills. Several have been made available during the last five years for preventing different sorts of relapses.

Five years ago, MS treatment was mainly through injections, a factor that led to many patients discontinuing treatment.

“Pills are a lot better,” White said. “You get tired of injecting yourself all over your body.”

Thomas says White and people like him have advantages. He’s upbeat, he’s educated with a master’s degree, has a supportive family and has financial support and access to care for his condition.

“There are some people who are at this place (where White is) in a wheelchair,” Thomas said. Still, he said, “MS is unpredictable. He could wake up with a new problem that wasn’t here today.”

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by STARSANDSTRIPES
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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