Understanding Veterans’ Risk for ALS
Veterans are twice as likely to develop Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in comparison to those who have not served in the military. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in muscle deterioration and loss of movement.
While there are currently no cures for ALS, symptomatic treatments are available and there are numerous clinical studies working to better understand the disease and how to treat it. Learn more here.
The exact causes of ALS are unknown, as are the reasons why veterans are at an increased risk for developing ALS. However, we do know that:
- Only 5-10% of ALS cases have currently been linked as familial, meaning it has been shown to run in families;
- The remaining 90-95% of ALS cases are defined sporadic, meaning no clear identifying cause of the disease, or genetic link, is known;
- ALS is not contagious.
Risk factors & VA benefits
It’s unclear what about military service may trigger the development of the disease; it may include trauma related to service, infections, extreme physical exertion or exposure to environmental toxins and heavy metals. Per the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), qualified military veterans with ALS and their families are eligible for presumptive service-connected benefits. Veterans with ALS may also find this book helpful as a guide to understanding VA benefits.
Definitive predictions about risk factors are constrained due to limited sample sizes. Participation in studies as early as possible after diagnosis can help researchers better identify factors that contribute to risks for ALS. To learn more about how you can be part of the process of finding a cure:
- Read about the CDC’s National ALS Registry and discover how you can participate in risk factor studies and help to advance research.
- Read about ALS research and resources through the Department of Defense at their Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs page.
- Review Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Among Veterans Deployed in Support of Post-9/11 U.S. Conflicts in Military Medicine.
You might find these helpful:
VA Checklist for Veterans Living with ALS
Download this checklist created by the Veterans Team to help you access your VA benefits as soon as possible.
Early ALS Symptoms
This article from Your ALS Guide shares information about early symptoms for limb-onset, bulbar-onset, and respiratory-onset ALS, along with potential cognitive changes.