VA Approves Robotic Legs for Paralyzed Veterans

The Veterans Affairs Department has finally agreed to pay for robotic legs for paralyzed veterans with spinal cord injuries. The approval of this technology could help many veterans who were previously unable to walk.

Veterans have petitioned the VA to cover it due to the $77,000 price tag, which many veterans are unable to afford. This incredible technology, called the ReWalk, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for individuals to use at home in 2014.

Dr. Ann Spungen, who led the VA research on the ReWalk system, stated that the VA’s decision “is a historic move […] it represents a paradigm shift in the approach to rehabilitation for persons with paralysis.”

The ReWalk Robotics company says that it has evaluated 45 paralyzed veterans who met the height and weight requirements with leg braces that have motion sensors and motorized joints that respond to slight changes in upper-body movement and balance shifts.

Former soldier Gene Laureano, 53, is hoping that his application will be approved after he was able to try out the robotic legs two years ago at a local VA Medical Center.
“The tears came down,” Laureano stated, who was left paralyzed five years ago following a fall off a ladder. “I hadn’t spoken to somebody standing up in so long.”

The ReWalk was invented by Israeli entrepreneur Amit Goffer, who was paralyzed in an accident in 1997. There are currently several other competing products that use similar technology being tested at other U.S. rehab facilities, but none measure up. ReWalk’s competitors are not as fast nor can they be worn long enough to replace wheelchair use.

A pilot study performed by the VA found that paraplegics who used the exoskeleton as little as four hours a week for three to five months experienced improved bowel and bladder function, less fatigue and back pain, as well as improved sleep.

Roughly 42,000 veterans are paralyzed, and only a small fraction meet the height and weight requirements for the ReWalk. One limitation is that the machine only works for paraplegics and not quadriplegics. ReWalk includes a waist belt keeps the suit secure, and a backpack stores the computer and rechargeable battery. Also, the FDA requires that an assistant be nearby when the machine is in use, as well as crutches for stability.

According to ReWalk Robotics officials, about a dozen of VA centers are planning to begin training their staff on the system and the program is expected to expand in the future.

Former Army Sgt. Terry Hannigan, a 62-year-old paralyzed Vietnam veteran, was the first vet to get the robotic legs as a part of the system test. She uses the ReWalk to visit the mall and go grocery shopping.

“I can walk up, shake someone’s hand. I can hug, kiss them,” Terry said. “The only other time I would get body contact was when a family member or caregiver would pick me up and put me in bed.”

The ReWalk system is on its way to changing the lives of many veterans.

The Archuleta Law Firm handles injury, death, and veterans medical malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act. We handle claims in all 50 States and Worldwide. Our focus is helping Veterans, and the families of Veterans and Military Service Members in their claims involving Veterans (VA) Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics and Military Hospitals, Doctors and Clinics. We handle claims involving the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force.

Source: Military Times/AP – Julie Watson