Our veterans’ sacrifices are vast. Among the many challenges they face is a greater risk of being diagnosed with ALS. In fact, veterans are more likely to be diagnosed with ALS than the civilian population, regardless of their branch or time of service. Because of this, ALS is recognized as a service-connected disease, and those who suffer from it are entitled to 100% disability pay.
However, while veterans with ALS are entitled to these benefits, it doesn’t always mean they receive them. But Earnest Hill, former member of the U.S. Air Force, is dedicating his life to changing that.
Earnest Hill served ten years of active duty in the Air Force and ten more in the reserves, spending the majority of his time flying as crew member on all sorts of big aircraft, all over the world. “I was in a flying unit,” Hill says, “I was in the air a lot.” Many would agree he was the polar opposite of a “desk Jockey.”
So you might be surprised to hear that a lot of what Earnest does these days involves sitting behind a desk filling out forms, forms and more forms. After his many years serving his country, he now serves veterans as a senior national service officer with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), working closely with the ALS Association and the Veterans Administration (VA) to ensure veterans living with ALS get the help and benefits they deserve and are entitled to.
Even though a diagnosis of ALS is presumed to be service connected, a veteran must still apply for benefits and enroll in the VA health care system. That is where the important work of someone like Earnest Hill comes in. “I'll do an interview with (the veteran) and if they have a spouse or family and introduce myself and then educate them on filing a claim with the VA,” he says. “I’ll navigate them through the process, and I'll complete about 90 to 100% of all of their claims paperwork that they'll need for the VA. Then they’ll review, make sure everything is correct, and sign.”
The expertise of people like Earnest, guiding veterans and their families through this process, should not be underestimated. For a veteran with ALS, each day of benefits can be vital, and those benefits only begin once all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. Filling out and submitting the right paperwork, in the correct manner, can mean the difference between a veteran getting access to benefits in a few days or weeks as opposed to a few months or longer.
Of course, the first step in getting a veteran living with the ALS their benefits is finding them. For this, Hill is not content to sit back and wait for vets to come to him. In Florida where he currently works, he made a point to reach out to all the major universities and hospitals to brief them on the work of the PVA and what any veterans in their care need to know.
And he didn’t stop there. “When it came to a lot of the local neurologists, I kind of just went through the phone book and looked online and compiled a listing and I sent out letters and made phone calls,” he says. “So as time went on, they started learning that if they have a veteran, to give them my name and my business card.”
Hill’s involvement with veterans living with ALS extends beyond his day job with PVA. In 2008, he was instrumental in establishing the ALS clinic at the South Carolina VA Medical Center in Charleston. He also regularly attends support groups for veterans living with ALS and serves as the only veteran on the Community Leadership Council for the ALS Association in Florida. “There was no one sitting on the council that knew how the veteran’s benefits aspect works,” he says. “So when it comes to taking care of veterans, I bring that expertise.”
So while now you may call Earnest Hill a paper pusher, we can assure you he’s a paper pusher with the knowledge, compassion and drive to go above and beyond, working hard every day in support of our nation’s heroes who are now fighting ALS. Years after hanging up his uniform, Earnest Hill still serves.
Earnest, thank you for all you do!
Veterans living with ALS and their families deserve the benefits they earned for their service to our country. The Justice for ALS Veterans Act, if passed, would ensure veterans with ALS and their families receive the benefits they earned for their indelible service to our country. Click here to ask your Representative and Senators to pass the Justice for ALS Veterans Act.
To continue to follow stories about people living with ALS in the community and learn more about the disease, follow our blog HERE.