Air Force veteran with ALS may be forced to leave home as care is reduced

Air Force veteran Mike Williamson of Springfield served for 14 years. (Photo courtesy the Williamson family)

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. -- A disabled Air Force veteran in Springfield may be forced to leave his home.

Mike Williamson traveled all over the world while serving for 14 years in the Air Force.

These days, however, getting around is a challenge. It can take him an hour just to get out of bed. The only way he can communicate is by typing on a keyboard, and all his meals come through a tube.

Mike was diagnosed with ALS in 1998 while still in the military. When the disease attacked his ability to walk and talk, Mike began to rely on in-home care.

While the disease attacked his body, it didn't touch his spirit. At the time he was diagnosed, his wife, Traci, was pregnant with their son. Mike said he had a lot to fight for.

"I want to see my son graduate, get married, and have kids," he said.

Things changed just before the holidays. Traci said in November she received a letter from their care provider, New Horizons, who had cared for Mike for the last 16 years.

In the letter, New Horizons gave them a 90-day notice, Traci said. After 90 days, they could no longer provide the level of care that Mike needs.

Traci said she was in shock. "We can't make there be a provider in the community if there's not," she said.

Mike said he would not move. He called moving away from his community and his home a "death sentence."

"I know his will to live will go away," Traci said. "That doesn't work for me. Because he still has so much to contribute to life."

Time is running out for the Williamsons to find another solution. Still, they have only good things to say about VA.

"We couldn't have gotten where we are without them," Traci said. "They're tremendous to us. But they don't have any options either."

For a man who can no longer speak, Mike has a lot to say.

"This shouldn't happen to anyone, not only veterans," Mike said.

He said he was hesitant to tell his story.

"I didn't want to be a follow-story when I pass away, but it is more important that this doesn't happen again."

He hopes his story will be a call to action around the country to better serve those who dedicated their lives to serving others.

Traci said she is hopeful that New Horizons will extend Mike's in-home care until they can find a more permanent solution. In the meantime, Traci and Mike are working with a lawyer from Disability Rights Oregon before their 90 days are up on February 14.

In an email, a representative from New Horizons said they could not comment due to HIPPA regulations.

Shanon L. Goodwin with the Roseburg VA Health Care System offered a statement Friday:

Mr. Williamson has been on 24-hour in-home care sponsored by VA for more than 15 years
Due to the increasing complexity of his condition, however, his in-home care providers gave notice late last year that they would no longer be able to continue to care for him in his home.
The Roseburg VA has conducted an exhaustive search across four states to find and coordinate alternatives for his continued care, but unfortunately there are no local facilities equipped to provide the type of around-the-clock medical attention he needs.
The nearest viable alternatives are two sites in the Seattle area, two sites in the San Francisco Bay area, and one in Boise. We are ready to coordinate Mr. Williamson’s care as seamlessly as possible in this unfortunate situation and we are standing by for the family to select one of these available options.
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