Research shows high rates of ALS in U.S. Military veterans

Research shows high rates of ALS in U.S. Military veterans

MIAMI, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Research shows that U.S. military veterans are twice as likely to suffer from ALS as the general public. ALS is a progressive disease, causing muscle weakness or atrophy. What is causing this alarming connection and what is being done to help those who served our country?

John Hartwell never imagined years after serving his country he might wind up like this.

“I was in the Air Force from September 1971 to September 1975,” Hartwell said.

It started with hand cramps in 2015 and then twitching in his arms. John was eventually diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. Doctor Ashok Verma, neurologist and medical director of the ALS Program at Miami V.A. Medical Center, at the Miami VA says the incidence of ALS in war veterans is double that of the general public.

“When people looked into ALS who have served in the Persian Gulf War it was approximately twice as common to the general population,” Dr. Verma said.

That also applied to those who served in World War Two, the Korean War and Vietnam. But what’s the cause?

Verma told Ivanhoe, “It may be environmental toxicants, for example exposure to oil wells, burning fumes.”

Hartwell isn’t sure if there’s a link between his service and ALS. But since losing the use of his arms he is learning to adapt.

“I am great with a mouse with my toes; actually it’s really easy,” Hartwell described.

He relies on his wife, Linda, to feed him but has not lost his sense of humor.

Hartwell told Ivanhoe, “Gotta be nice to my wife!”

In the meantime, Hartwell is participating in clinical trials, hoping to shed light on the battle against ALS.

Currently, the life span of a patient with ALS is three to five years. There are two FDA approved medications for ALS but Doctor Verma says the effects are modest. That’s why finding a cure is so urgent. He says any veteran diagnosed with ALS should contact the VA system and get enrolled. Hartwell also recommends calling the Paralyzed Veterans of America. They have supplied him with a power wheelchair and a wheelchair accessible van when needed. For more information and help for veterans go to www.va.gov or www.pva.org.

Copyright 2019 WDAM. All rights reserved. Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Janna Ross, Field Producer; Judy Reich, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.