Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Honoring Veteran PALS in the Fight of their Lives

As we celebrate our Veterans this Veterans Day, let’s especially recognize those veterans who are suffering from ALS. A disproportionate number of them are.

In recognition of this, in September of this year the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs granted veterans diagnosed with ALS full access to health and disability benefits. The policy was effective immediately, and covers all veterans who have served a minimum of 90 consecutive days. When and where they served is irrelevant to their eligibility for services.

The VA cited a compilation of medical studies in deciding to expand coverage, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in Veterans: Review of the Scientific Literature, issued by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, and released in November 2006. It concluded that "there is limited and suggestive evidence of an association between military service and later development of ALS.” Other organizations, such as the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALSTDI), were responsible for advocating for expanded ALS attention and funding (read ALSTDI’s coverage).

According to the study, veterans within the last century are almost twice as likely to develop ALS non-veterans. “[ALS] continues to take an inordinate toll on our nation's veterans," said Dr. Stanely Appel for ALSTDI in his prepared testimony before the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this year.

It is not clear why ALS occurs more frequently in veterans, though it has been suggested that the anthrax vaccine administered to servicepeople does play a role.

Regarding the decision to expand coverage, VA Secretary James Peake said in a statement, "Veterans are developing ALS in rates higher than the general population, and it was appropriate to take action. ALS is a disease that progresses rapidly, once it is diagnosed. There simply isn't time to develop the evidence needed to support compensation claims before many veterans become seriously ill. My decision will make those claims much easier to process, and for them and their families to receive the compensation they have earned through their service to our Nation."

The VA was in also the news with respect to ALS in late August due to a regrettable oversight—it mistakenly notified 1,200 Gulf War veterans across the country that they suffer from ALS (see the full story here). It subsequently apologized, blaming a coding error for the mistaken letters.

We encourage veteran PALS to take advantage of the services available to you (see a complete list here). On this day, let us support and encourage those veterans who are battling ALS in the fight of their lives.

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