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Veterans At Higher Risk For ALS, VA Offers Help

Photo by Don S. Montgomery, USN (Ret.) The Navy wants to build a natural gas plant at its shipyard in Portsmouth.
Photo by Don S. Montgomery, USN (Ret.) The Navy wants to build a natural gas plant at its shipyard in Portsmouth.
Veterans At Higher Risk For ALS, VA Offers Help

Several years ago, Army veteran Victor Collins noticed that he had slight trouble moving one of his fingers. He worried it was carpal tunnel syndrome. Instead, his doctor gave him devastating news: Collins had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS -- otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The paralysis began to spread through his left hand and arm.

ALS is fatal, and there’s no cure yet. But since 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs has provided benefits for people like Collins who suffer. Collins wants people to know the Veteran’s Administration will help.

"Since we don’t know why you get it or how you’ve gotten it, they just said well, regardless of that, we know that you’re a veteran, we know that you have it, and we’re going to try to provide assistance for you," Collins said.

Researchers aren't sure what causes ALS, or why it's connected to military service, but the Mayo Clinic website says veterans might get ALS because of exposure to toxins, injuries or intense exertion.

In November 2006 the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine issued a report on the association between military service and ALS. The report concluded that “there is limited and suggestive evidence" of such a link. In 2008 VA Secretary James Peake announced that all veterans with 90 days or more of active service would be eligible for compensation for the disease.

“ALS is a disease that progresses rapidly, once it is diagnosed,” Peake explained in a statement. “There simply isn’t time to develop the evidence needed to support compensation claims before many veterans become seriously ill.”

"I think too many people are devastated, and they become depressed and they pull back, but information becomes your weapon," Collins added. "Information is your ally and a tool for you to become empowered so that the disease just doesn’t totally overwhelm you."

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