The ALS Association

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Military Veterans at Greater Risk of ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease New ALS Association Report Shows

More Federal Research Funding Needed Now

May 11, 2005

Washington, DC  – Military veterans are more likely to contract ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka “Lou Gehrig’s disease”) than the rest of the population, regardless of when they served in uniform, according to a new report released today by The ALS Association at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education. The report states that men and women with any history of military service in the last century are at a nearly 60% greater risk of ALS than men and women who did not serve in the military.

Military White Paper_cover

“As outlined in this paper, study after study continues to demonstrate this to be true:  If you serve in the military, regardless of the branch of service, regardless of whether you served in the Persian Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, or World War II, and regardless of whether you served during a time of peace or a time of war, you are at a greater risk of dying from ALS than if you had not served in the military,” said Steve Gibson vice president for government relations and public affairs of The ALS Association. “The questions we are asking today are these:  Why is there a greater risk of ALS with military service?  And what are we, as a nation, going to do about it?”

The report raises the alarming rate of ALS among Gulf War veterans, saying “Gulf War veterans are approximately twice as likely to develop ALS as those not deployed to the Gulf.”

None of the studies analyzed provides any answers to why those in military service are at such a great risk of developing ALS.  This lack of answers only highlights the need for more research into the military-ALS relationship and into the disease itself.

“Despite the limited answers available, there is very little question that there is a link between military service and ALS,” said Gibson.

 Kate Linder Testifies
Kate Linder and David Cone speak before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education.

The release of the report coincides with the appearance before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education by ALS Association officials and advocates on the state of the disease, research and treatment.

The hearing features a number of speakers, including “The Young and the Restless” star Kate Linder, and baseball greats Tommy John and David Cone.

The hearing is but one event in The ALS Association’s 2005 National ALS Advocacy Day and Public Policy Conference.  The Conference was kicked off with a Candlelight Vigil at the Jefferson Memorial the night before.  Actor Alan Rosenberg emceed the event, which featured author and Lou Gehrig biographer Jonathan Eig, writer Amy Phillips, and 12 year-old Jason Metcalfe, all of whom delivered moving and inspirational speeches about ALS and the need to find a cure. 

Tommy John 
Baseball great Tommy John advocates for ALS .

“Much work is needed to be done to understand this link between ALS and military service,” continued Gibson.  “We hope to impress upon Congress, the Administration and the American people the seriousness of this issue and the need to act now.”

“As we work to address the risk of ALS in military veterans, we must not lose sight of the fact that ALS is a disease that impacts both the veteran and non-veteran communities, said Gibson.  “Research into ALS and the military should be broad based and should not be conducted at the expense of other important research into ALS.  After all, the disease knows no boundaries, and research into the many potential causes and treatments for ALS surely will benefit veterans and non-veterans alike.”

“By committing the resources necessary to better understand the apparent link between ALS and military service, we can take action to help ensure that our military men and women, today and in the future, are at no greater risk of ALS than other Americans,” said Gibson. “More importantly, a concerted national effort to understand this connection may yield important clues about ALS, what causes the disease, how it may be prevented, treated and, ultimately, cured - advances that truly will benefit us all.”

 Senate Hearing
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education hears the testimonies
of ALS advocates. 

“More than 100,000 American men and women currently are defending our country and the cause of freedom in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan.  Hundreds of thousands of others serving in the USand across the globe also risk their lives each day in support of this country,” said Gibson. “Like Lou Gehrig, they are all American heroes.  And we can support them by committing the resources necessary to make ALS a disease of the past and eliminate it from the face of the earth.”

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord, ultimately resulting in a loss of voluntary muscle control, paralysis and death. The average life expectancy for people with ALS is two to five years from the time of diagnosis and there is no known cause, cure or means of prevention for the disease.

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