Many veterans also have to fight ALS

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dear Editor:

This Veterans Day you read about the heroes who fought for our country in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. You heard about those who defended freedom during the Cold War, and those who served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what you probably won’t hear about is the war our veterans continue to wage right here at home: the war against ALS &045; the deadly disease that took the life of baseball legend Lou Gehrig and which is now striking veterans at nearly twice the rate as the general population.

Most of us, including our men and women in the military, have no idea that a disease made famous by a baseball player is as deadly to generals and privates as the bullets and bombs they face in combat. Only ALS is more insidious, more horrific and more cruel.

Email newsletter signup

ALS strikes silently, slowly eroding a person’s ability to control muscle movement. At first, people notice subtle changes, like pain in their feet or slurred speech. But as the disease progresses, they lose the ability to move their arms, to walk and even stand. Many no longer are able to speak, eat or even wink an eye. They are completely paralyzed, yet their minds remain sharp. They are isolated and awake, alive with the knowledge that they are trapped inside their bodies. Eventually they suffocate to death because their bodies have been robbed of the most basic human function &045; the ability to breath.

On average, the victims of ALS die within two to five years after diagnosis. And as their bodies succumb to the disease, there is little that they can do to slow the steady progression, for there is no cure for ALS and no effective treatment.

Although Congress and the administration repeatedly express support for our troops, they have not done enough to support our military men and women and our veterans in the war against ALS, despite the fact that studies conducted by researchers at the Veterans Administration and Harvard University have found that people who serve in the military, regardless of when or where they served, are approximately twice as likely to die from ALS. What cruel irony. It’s time we fight back. It’s time Congress and the administration support our heroes in the war against ALS by committing the resources needed to learn what causes the disease, how it can be treated and cured.

To learn how you can support our veterans, go to, and join The ALS Association in the war against Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Our family lost a loved one, Andy Howe, to the dreaded disease, ALS, in 2004. We watched a healthy, athletic, health-conscious man spend two full years in the slow agonizing process of dying. He was only 42 years old and left a wife and two teenage daughters.

According to recent surveys, military personnel have twice the chance of contracting ALS as those who have not served in the military.

On Oct. 16 the House of Representatives passed the ALS Registry Act, 411-3. This bill will authorize $89 million over five years to establish the first registry at the Centers for Disease Control. There is momentum to pass the bill in the Senate. As of Oct. 16, 58 senators have cosponsored the bill, just two shy of the 60 needed to move it forward.

Dorothye Jackson