American Heroes At Risk
As a result of several comprehensive studies, scientists have reached the conclusion that those who serve in the military are approximately two times more likely to develop ALS than those who have never served. This correlation does not depend on the branch of service. This increased risk exists regardless of whether veterans served in the Persian Gulf War, Vietnam War, Korean War, or World War II, and regardless of whether they served during a time of peace or a time of war.
The correlation was discovered after the Gulf War, when veterans younger than the typical age range (40-70 years old with an average of 55 years) of ALS patients were demonstrating symptoms of muscle weakness, slurred speech, and difficulties eating or breathing. These symptoms were grouped together and known as “Gulf War Syndrome.” A study focusing on veterans from the Gulf War study examined ALS in veterans aged 45 or younger and found that they were at a greatly increased risk of developing ALS than the general population. The findings also showed that the rate of ALS increased over time. Following these results, Harvard University’s School of Public Health conducted a more general study involving men with any history of military service. They discovered that veterans, including those with no wartime service, had a 60% greater chance of developing ALS than the general population.
The Department of Veterans Affairs considers ALS a full service-related disease. Veterans who cannot otherwise imagine how they would afford the cost for their care have received wheelchairs, part-time caregivers, housing grants to install elevator, and more.
The ALS Association recognizes the increased risk to our veterans, and we are determined to find answers and treatments. We have worked with Congress to obtain funding for the ALSRP (ALS Research Program). Since 2007, $30 million have been allocated to this cause. Unlike, several other programs which focus on basic research, the ALSRP is focused on translational research, with the specific goal of finding new treatments for ALS. Therefore, it is urgent and vital that Congress continues to support these research endeavors.
For more information, please view this 2013 report summarizing the studies about ALS in the military and the progress being made.
Note from Dr. Colin Quinn on Care for Veterans with ALS