The Tragic Connection Between ALS and Veterans


By Debbie Gregory.

There’s something about military life that is putting our nation’s vets in harm’s way, and it’s not military action or a terrorist threat.

Lou Gehrig’s disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a horrifying disease that weakens muscles to the point of paralysis, and renders the sufferer unable to move or breathe without help.

Studies show that if you’ve served in the military, any branch, any war, or even if you served in a time of peace, veterans have a 60% higher risk of getting ALS than the general population, and no one seems to know why.

Lou Gehrig’s disease was discovered in 1869, almost 150 years ago. But according to the ALS Association, the prognosis for anyone diagnosed with the disease is the same as it was then.  ALS damages neurons, paralyzing muscles as it spreads, becoming lethal in two to five years as breathing becomes compromised. The mind remains untouched.

The disease was recently brought to public conscientiousness, thanks to the worldwide success of the ALS bucket challenge.

“We don’t know what about service could lead to increased risk of the disease in veterans,” said Patrick Wildman, vice president of public policy for the ALS Association. “It could be a variety of factors from head trauma and excessive physical activity to exposures. It also could be a combination of a genetic predisposition with an environmental trigger.”

The Mayo Clinic guesses that reasons for the connection “may include exposure to certain metals or chemicals, traumatic injuries, viral infections and intense exertion” but says that “exactly what about military service may trigger the development of ALS is uncertain.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs considers ALS a full service-related disease. That’s a blessing for veterans and their families, who can’t imagine how they would cope with the expenses.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.