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Veterans Health Administration

“Team VA” Raises Money for Multiple Sclerosis Research

What causes multiple sclerosis?

The causes of MS are still unknown. What is known is that MS is an autoimmune disease that is affected by a variety of factors like genetics, environment, diet, and vitamin deficiencies which causes the immune system to malfunction. The malfunction can cause damage to the nerve fibers in the central nervous system.

MS is unpredictable

Multiple sclerosis is characterized by relapses (neurologic symptoms which appear rapidly over a few days and then improve to some extent over weeks or months), and remissions (periods of time that are without new symptoms).

The disease is unpredictable and some people experience a variety of symptoms that might worsen over time.

What are the effects of MS?

The effect of the disease damages the insulating material that surrounds the nerve fibers in the central nervous system. This material is called myelin.

The results of this damaging process are similar to what happens to insulation around an electrical wire. When the electrical wire is exposed to the environment (the insulation has worn off), it interrupts the normal flow of electricity and can cause a sporadic connection.

Sometimes it causes an electrical short and no electricity will flow through the wire. Other times, the exposed wire “works” but not correctly.

When there is damage to the nerve fibers of the brain or spinal cord, like in exposed wiring, there can be a sporadic connection causing a variety of symptoms.

Some of the symptoms include extreme physical fatigue, numbness, loss of balance, blurred vision, poor coordination, feelings of muscle weakness and stiffness, changes in thinking, and bowel and bladder problems.

Although currently MS is not curable, several treatments are effective in reducing the frequency of relapses, and reduce the progression of symptoms over time.

The VA Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence is dedicated to furthering the understanding of the disease, its impact on Veterans and effective treatments to help manage MS symptoms.

Who gets MS?

MS affects two-to-three times more women than men.

There is research showing that people who grow up in a colder climate and in northern latitudes are at a somewhat greater risk of developing MS.

Other studies show Caucasians and people from European backgrounds have the highest incidence of MS while people of Japanese descent have the lowest.

Most individuals are diagnosed while in their 20s or 30s, although the age of onset ranges from 15 to 50.

Group of men and women on bicycles on a bridge

Muskogee Medical Center “Team VA”

Kevin Watson is the assistant police chief at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee, Okla.

He is also the Captain of “Team VA” which helped raise $6,000 for multiple sclerosis (MS) research by riding their bicycles 150 miles from Tulsa to Oklahoma City.

Kevin loves the ride, enjoys representing VA and is happy to do his part in the fight against MS.

“Without Veterans, I wouldn’t have my freedom.”

— Veteran Kevin Watson, Assistant Police Chief at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center

Over 28,000 Veterans with multiple sclerosis receive care annually from VA.

After Kevin had gastric bypass surgery, he started riding to lose weight.

“I wanted a way to reach Veterans and show our pride for what VA does and the MS ride was a great match, plus it’s for a great cause.

“One of our Team members had MS and he helped bring it into perspective of being more than just a bike ride.”

The best year for “Team VA” was 2009 when the team raised over $11,000 for Oklahoma MS Research.

Born and raised in Muskogee, Kevin is an Army and National Guard Infantry Veteran of seven years, including a tour in Iraq, and has been with VA for 15 years.

Proof that hard work and dedication do pay off, he started with VA as a temporary Kitchen employee, joined the police force in 1998, and moved up the ranks to Assistant Chief of Police Service.

Allowing that not every day on a bike is filled with splendor and glory, Kevin admits that, “One day I had a sore back, so I stuck a heat pad on my back at the beginning of the ride and forgot about it.

“At about mile 68, I remembered it because it slipped down into my butt cheeks and was still pretty hot.

“I ripped it out and threw it down. I did not look at the guy behind me.”

The “Oklahoma MS 150 Bike Tour” is the states’ single biggest event to raise money and awareness for MS research. Anyone interested in participating can start here at the link to Team VA.

Kevin explains his motivation by saying, “Without Veterans I wouldn’t have my freedom. Without Veterans I wouldn’t have my life.

“I am just a small part of the big picture but when you come to Muskogee, it’s easy to see that my team of riders and officers strive daily to put Veterans first and support the Muskogee VA’s motto of Excellence Starts Here.”