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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs


Desert Shield, Desert Storm Vets Have Higher Rate Of ALS

December 10, 2001

Printable Version


WASHINGTON -- In a large epidemiological study, researchers supported by both the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) have found preliminary evidence that veterans who served in Desert Shield-Desert Storm are nearly twice as likely as their non-deployed counterparts to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

VA, working with DoD, studied nearly 2.5 million veterans for this investigation.

“I am pleased that VA is once again making a major contribution that will benefit veterans and, in fact, all Americans," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi.  "I am committed to doing research that provides a better understanding of diseases that affect veterans and providing disability compensation as early as possible."

“This research is a product of a significant investment by DoD and VA over the past several years and reflects our commitment to investigate the medical problems and health concerns of Gulf War veterans,” said Dr. Bill Winkenwerder, Jr., the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.  “Scientific research helps answer veterans’ questions and holds the promise for better protection of the health of our men and women during future deployments."

Both VA and DoD fund and operate programs dedicated to studying Gulf War illnesses and the effect of continuing deployments on the health of the men and women who have served in the armed forces. 

This study, begun in March 2000, involved nearly 700,000 service members deployed to Southwest Asia, and 1.8 million who were not deployed to the Gulf during the period Aug. 2, 1990 to July 31, 1991.

The study found 40 cases of ALS among deployed veterans.  Although the researchers found the  risk of ALS to be twice as high for deployed veterans, it is a rare disease and the number of affected individuals is small. Scientists would expect to find 33 cases in a similar-sized population over the same time period.

“These findings are of great concern and warrant further study," Principi said. "I intend to make certain that VA’s medical resources and research capabilities are fully focused on this issue.”

He said he would also explore VA's options for compensating veterans who served in the Gulf and who subsequently develop ALS.

ALS is a fatal neurological disease that destroys the nerve cells that control muscle movement.  Neither a cause nor an effective treatment for ALS is known.

The investigation, jointly funded by DoD and VA for $1.3 million, included case reviews, examinations and at-home interviews of the participants.

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