My Turn: Veterans face a silent enemy: ALS

Disease strikes vets at nearly twice the rate as the general population

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2007

This Veterans Day you will read about the heroes who fought for our country in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. You will hear about those who defended freedom during the Cold War and those who served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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But what you probably won't hear about is the war our veterans continue to wage right here at home: The war against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - the deadly disease that took the life of baseball legend Lou Gehrig and which is now striking veterans at nearly twice the rate as the general population.

Most of us, including our men and women in the military, have no idea that a disease made famous by a baseball player is as deadly to generals and privates as the bullets and bombs they faced in combat. Only ALS is more insidious, more horrific and more cruel.

ALS strikes silently, slowly eroding a person's ability to control muscle movement. At first, people notice subtle changes, such as pain in their feet or slurred speech. But as the disease progresses, they lose the ability to move their arms, to walk and even stand. Many no longer are able to speak, eat or even wink an eye. They are completely paralyzed, yet their minds remain sharp. They are isolated and awake, alive with the knowledge that they are trapped inside their own bodies. Eventually they suffocate to death because their bodies have been robbed of the most basic human function - the ability to breathe.

On average, the victims of ALS die within two to five years after diagnosis. As their bodies succumb to the disease, there is little they can do to slow the steady progression, for there is no cure for ALS and no effective treatment.

Although Congress and the Bush administration repeatedly express support for our troops, they have not done enough to support our military men and women and our veterans in the war against ALS, despite the fact that studies conducted by researchers at the Veterans Administration and Harvard University have found that people who serve in the military, regardless of when or where they served, are approximately twice as likely to die from ALS.

What cruel irony. People who have dedicated their lives to defending an entire country - our country - succumbing to a disease that prevents them from even lifting a finger in their own defense.

It's time we fight back. It's time Congress and the Bush administration support our heroes in the war against ALS by committing the resources needed to learn what causes the disease, how it can be treated and cured.

This Veterans Day, please remember the war our veterans are fighting against ALS and join their fight to end this disease. How many more have to die?

Go to, and join the ALS Association in the war against Lou Gehrig's disease.

• Linda Kreider represented Alaska at the ALS Advocacy Conference held May 2006 in Washington, D.C. She is a resident of Ketchikan.

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