Military Veterans Twice as Likely to Develop ALS

Military veterans are twice as likely to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) as those who haven’t served in the military.

MORE: Explaining the progression of ALS

Despite extensive research into the topic, scientists are still unable to find the link between serving in the military and developing ALS.  According to the ALS Association, the risk is increased regardless of which branch of the military you served in, where you were posted, and even whether you served during war or peace.

While those who served in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 have double the risk, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine, those who served in Vietnam, Korea, or World War II also have a higher risk of ALS.

One theory is that those in the military have a higher risk of being exposed to environmental pollutants such as lead, pesticides, and other toxins. Another is that the extreme physical exertion that servicemen and women undergo may also heighten the risk. Smoking and alcohol consumption are also thought to increase the risk of the disease.

MORE: What research is being done on ALS?

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  1. Van says:

    I believe it may come from a variety of things. The toxics would be number one on my list, especially the synergistic effects of our multiple exposures. A good example of that might be the use of the pesticides, such as insecticides and herbicides on our military installations, aircraft, ships, so on and so forth, in conjunction with one another.
    It may also be because of the needle sticks mixed in there as well. Before going overseas in 1966 we were told we would be getting more than 60 needle sticks. Only 30 are in my shot records.
    On Guam, after WWII, there was a huge outbreak in these types of diseases(ALS and Parkinsons) in the civilian population as well as the military population that invaded the mariannas. Both of these populations were exposed to an extreme amount toxics, especially with pesticides. The military population was also vaccinated against dengue fever because 80% or more of our invading force were coming down with this disease.
    I do believe if there was a desire to know what has caused these diseases, we would know. But money trumps all and science has to take a backseat or is just bought and paid for.

    • Zimple Kurlawala says:

      Thanks for leaving that comment. I am an ALS researcher, with a keen interest in identifying environmental causes of neurodegeneration. You have expanded my thinking by mentioning the preparation aspect for going overseas, not just environmental exposure in foreign lands and in war.

      • Larry says:

        We had my wife’s Celebration of Life Service 3 weeks ago. We battked ALS for 3 years. I am now getting involved with our local ALS Association in Denver & connecting with Veterans. I’m trying to find out how many vets have been diagnosed with ALS. If you migjt this info thank you

        • Violet Courtney Jones says:

          My husband served in air force as bomb loader in Vietnam and is in latter stage of als, agent orange was heavily involved.

    • Amy says:

      I agree with Van’s comment above regarding the desire to find out causation. There seems to be a chemical link & I’m sure oxidative stress adds to the increased risk/chance of ALS developing. Sadly, the exposure is high as a society – farming, military, landscaping, etc. has created a dependence and vicious cycle of using heavy pesticides/toxins.

  2. JP says:

    What Van says. I’d never thought about the massive number of immunization and other drugs that are injected into service personnel. Seems like that’s as good of a target for further research as anything else. Of course, if anything came of it, that would require the military to admit it had made a mistake and is willing to help the victims that it produced through negligence, and that usually takes decades – if ever!

    Not holding my breath on THAT ever happening!

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