Honor the Contract
IN SEARCH OF GULF WAR VETS WITH LOU GEHRIG’S DISEASE
By Deborah Funk, Marine
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
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.