VA in Search of Gulf War Vets with Lou Gehrig’s Disease


Honor the Contract



By Deborah Funk, Marine

Times: 09-27-99

To determine the rate of Lou

Gehrig’s disease among Gulf War veterans, the Veterans Affairs

Department is searching for Desert Storm veterans who may be

afflicted with the fatal, progressive neurological ailment.

Researchers want veterans

who have been diagnosed with a motor neuron disease and who served on

active duty between Aug. 2, 1990, and July 31, 1991, to contact them

toll-free at 1-877-DIAL ALS or 1-877-342-5257.

Researchers also want

veterans who served during that period, even if they weren’t in the

Gulf, to contact VA at the same phone number.

While details still are

being developed, nurses or other health care workers likely will

interview study participants at home, gathering information on their

occupations, home environment and other possible risk factors. The

patients later will be examined to help determine whether they have

amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s


This year, after the urging

of families and advocates of Gulf War veterans with ALS, Veterans

Affairs officials reviewed VA and Defense Department records and

found 28 Gulf War veterans had ALS. Researchers expected they would

find 27.

Dr. John R. Feussner, VA

chief research and development officer, said based on the available

information, he doesn’t think there is an elevated risk among Gulf

War veterans. But he isn’t sure VA officials have captured all of the

cases in their databanks. For example, their mortality database only

would include those who have died. And the databases used did not

include care at civilian hospitals or doctors’ offices.

“While the research

effort might not turn anything up, I just think we owe it to the

veterans to do it,” Feussner said.

Former CIA analyst Patrick

Eddington, co-author of “Gassed in the Gulf,” said the

study “is long overdue.”

His book asserts that U.S.

troops were exposed to chemical weapons in the Gulf.

Two years ago when only nine

cases were identified, an ALS expert told Congress that the number of

cases identified at that time seemed high, Eddington said.

ALS prevents the brain from

communicating with muscles, and it becomes progressively worse. It

affects movement and the ability to swallow, speak and breathe.

Although the body fails, the mind remains sharp, and the patient can

hear, see, taste and smell, according to The ALS Association.

There is no known cause or

cure, although some researchers say it is slightly more common among

rural populations and possibly commercial aviators.

About half of ALS patients

live at least three years from the time they are diagnosed. Twenty

percent live five years and some live for 10 or more years after

diagnosis, according to The ALS Association.

In most cases, its onset

starts between the ages of 40 and 70. The average onset is earlier

among Gulf War veterans.

Researchers will try to

determine whether there is a cluster of cases among Gulf War

veterans. Twenty-eight cases have been confirmed, but the estimate

could be closer to 50.

The higher number would

include the 28 confirmed cases and 24 people who have contacted The

ALS Association saying they were Gulf War veterans who have ALS.

Besides the 28, VA officials

found six more cases that appeared in veterans who were in the Gulf

War theater after the fighting but who were not in the conflict.

Within a few months, VA

officials hope to be able to determine whether the cases they have

confirmed are different from or overlap the association’s count.