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New Hope For Paralyzed Veterans: Robotic Legs Approved By The VA

For years, doctors have been telling paraplegics that they will never walk again. That changed in 2014 when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved special robotic legs that performed well in a small clinical trial. Even better, the Department of Veterans Affairs took an extraordinary step a year later when dozens of veterans lobbied for their use in cases of battle-related injuries.

ReWalk

In December 2015, the VA outlined training materials to help outfit 45 veterans who met the criteria for this new device, according to U.S. News & World Report. Some veterans have been waiting for the robotic legs, called ReWalk, for two years. Gene Laureano, 53, became paralyzed in 2010 after falling off a ladder. When he tried the exoskeleton in 2013, he openly cried because he had not spoken to someone standing up in a very long time. People like Laureano benefit from the device, but not everyone may qualify.

Free To Qualified Veterans

The VA says it evaluates veterans at any of the 24 Veterans Health Administration Spinal Cord Injury Centers in the United States. Veterans who meet the physical criteria for the device then go to a training center to learn how to walk with ReWalk. The overall cost of the system is $77,000, which is extremely prohibitive for people without insurance or benefits. The cost factor is a primary reason why every veteran doesn't have this system yet, but the VA wants to change that.

The 3.5 hour battery back-pack  / via Technion Canada

“The 3.5 hour battery back-pack” / via Technion Canada

How It Works

As many as 42,000 veterans are paralyzed, but only a small amount may meet the physical requirements of the exoskeleton during this initial roll out phase. A backpack provides power and the computer, while a wide belt around the waist that runs down either side of both legs provides support for the suit. Each person uses crutches for stability, which means the suit works only for paraplegics, not quadriplegics. The FDA requires an assistant to be nearby at all times in case the person needs help.

Benefits to Paraplegics

The follwing video shows how ReWalk comes together. Unfortunately, the system does not completely eliminate the need for a wheelchair. The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine states researchers found no adverse effects after participants of the clinical trial walked 300 feet up to 14 times during training sessions. People who walked a minimum of four hours per week for up to three months showed improved sleep, better bladder and bowel function, less fatigue, and reduced back pain. The VA wants to expand the amount of veterans covered by this system sometime in the future. You can also help veterans navigate the health care system by signing this petition.

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