VA reacts to recent ALS study

WASHINGTON, December 10, 2001 (DeploymentLINK) - Based on new research evidence, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs said veterans who served in the Gulf during the period from August 2, 1990, through July 31, 1991, and who subsequently developed Lou Gehrig's Disease will be compensated.

VA Secretary Anthony Principi announced that the VA now has preliminary evidence that veterans who deployed to the Gulf War are nearly twice as likely as their non-deployed counterparts to develop Lou Gehrig's Disease, technically known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. The VA, together with the Department of Defense and other agencies, sponsored a study that looked for cases of ALS among the nearly 700,000 servicemembers deployed to Southwest Asia and the 1.8 million on active duty during the period who were not deployed to the Gulf.

The study, done by researchers at the Durham VA and Duke University Medical Centers in North Carolina, found 40 cases of ALS among deployed veterans and 67 cases among the much larger non-deployed group. This translates to a nearly two-fold increase in the rate of this disorder in the deployed group compared to the non-deployed group.

ALS is a rare, chronic disease of the nerves. Medical science doesn't know the cause of this progressive illness, and there is no scientific evidence pointing to what might have caused ALS among Gulf War veterans. It most often strikes adults 50 to 70 years of age, although it has been diagnosed in patients as young as 19 years old. Lou Gehrig was 36 when he was diagnosed. There is also no effective treatment for ALS, which generally leads to death in two to seven years.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Bill Winkenwerder, Jr., said that joint research into ALS over the past several years reflects both departments' commitment to investigate the health concerns of Gulf War veterans.

"Scientific research helps answer veterans' questions and holds the promise for better protection of the health of our men and women during future deployments," Winkenwerder said.

The Defense Department's Director for Deployment Health Support, Michael E. Kilpatrick, M.D., said that this research demonstrates both the DoD's and the VA's commitment to Gulf War veterans. He said the study has significance for the VA in its mission to provide health care for veterans, for DoD in its programs to protect the health of those who serve, and for the larger society in its understanding of ALS.

"DOD supports the VA's decision to explore its options for compensating veterans who served in the Gulf and who later developed ALS, based on the preliminary findings of our jointly sponsored research," Kilpatrick said. "Both departments recognize that the most important issue is to provide assistance to our sick veterans and their families quickly. Time is of the essence for those who suffer from ALS."

Kilpatrick added that DOD concurs with the VA's recommendation for further research which may lead to an understanding of the cause of ALS.