The exoskeleton costs $69,500 and was too expensive for many injured veterans. According to NPR, ReWalk has so far determined 45 paralyzed veterans meet the criteria for the exoskeleton and have begun the enrollment process.
Dr. Ann Spungen, who led VA research on the device, told the AP that this is major shift in policy. “The research support and effort to provide eligible veterans with paralysis an exoskeleton for home use is a historic move on the part of the VA because it represents a paradigm shift in the approach to rehabilitation for persons with paralysis.”
The VA policy is the first national coverage policy in the US for qualifying individuals who have suffered spinal cord injuries. The policy provides eligible veterans access to referral and evaluation at all designated ReWalk Training Centers across the country. Eligible veterans will be referred for training on the use of the device, and successful candidates will then be eligible to obtain a ReWalk Personal system.
“This historic policy will provide access to our life-changing technology for thousands of veterans across America,” said ReWalk CEO Larry Jasinski. “We want all U.S. veterans with a spinal cord injury to know that they now have a path to securing their own ReWalk Personal exoskeleton system.
“The policy outlines a sound process to educate, train and importantly, to provide individual veterans with a ReWalk Personal device so that they may walk at home and in the community. We expect this landmark national policy will substantially improve the health and quality of life of many veterans in the years ahead.”
ReWalk is the only FDA-cleared exoskeleton system in the U.S., with clearances for both personal use at home and in the community, as well as for the rehabilitation setting. The battery-powered system features a light, wearable exoskeleton with motors at the hip and knee joints. The exoskeleton controls movement using subtle changes in his/her center of gravity. A forward tilt of the upper body is sensed by the system, which initiates the first step. Repeated body shifting generates a sequence of steps that mimics a functional natural gait of the legs.
Gene Laureano, a 53-year-old veteran who was paralyzed five years ago after falling off a ladder, was part of a study about the ReWalk exoskeleton. He told the AP he is now eagerly waiting for the response to his application for the system. “The tears came down. I hadn’t spoken to somebody standing up in so long.”
“I just kept remembering the doctor told me it was impossible for me to walk, and then I crossed that threshold from the impossible to the possible,” he added.