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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

 

Gulf War Service-ALS Link Confirmed

Sep. 22, 2003, 08:00:00 AM

Printable Version


WASHINGTON – A recent scientific study supports a 22-month policy by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recognize amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) among veterans of the Gulf War as a service-connected illness.

"Based upon preliminary research available in December 2001, I felt it was appropriate for us to act swiftly," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. "I'm gratified that the final study supports that decision."

The study found that veterans who were deployed to the combat theater during the Gulf War were nearly twice as likely to develop the disease as veterans not deployed to the Gulf, accounting for 40 of the 107 cases identified among military personnel.  The incidence of ALS was especially high among deployed Air Force personnel, who were 2.7 times more likely to develop ALS than non-deployed Air Force personnel.

"Earlier research did not provide a definitive answer to this issue," said lead author Ronnie D. Horner, Ph.D.  Horner was with VA’s Epidemiologic Research and Information Center in Durham, N.C., when the research was conducted, and is now with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.  "We now have compelling evidence that service in the Gulf is associated with the occurrence of ALS among veterans of the ’90-‘91 Gulf War."

Another recent study by Dr. Robert W. Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas also supports VA's decision to officially recognize ALS as a service-connected illness for VA benefits.

The new ALS study, published in the Sept. 23 issue of the scientific journal Neurology and funded by VA and the Department of Defense (DoD), does not identify a cause for the disease or the increased occurrence in this group of veterans. 

ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, kills cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement, resulting in gradual wasting of the muscles.  Fatal in most cases, the disease usually strikes people between ages 40 and 70.  The cause of the disease is unknown.

Earlier this year, VA established a national ALS registry to identify veterans with the disease -- regardless of when they served -- and track their health status.  Veterans with ALS who enroll will complete an initial telephone interview covering their health and military service and will be interviewed twice yearly thereafter. 

For more information about VA’s ALS Registry, based at the Durham VA Medical Center, call 1-877-DIAL-ALS (1-877-342-5257) or e-mail ALS@med.va.gov.

The ALS Association and researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised the study leaders.  Numerous medical, academic, veteran and voluntary health organizations provided assistance in conducting the study. 

Since 1994, the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services have spent $213 million on 224 research projects relating to the health effects of military deployment.  VA plans to spend up to an additional $20 million by the end of fiscal 2004. 

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