Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

“PVA’s National Service Offices represent veterans with ALS and their dependents throughout the disease process and for life.” 

-Winston Woodard III, PVA senior benefits advocate of the Edward Hines Jr. VA Spinal Cord Injury Center

What is ALS and what causes it?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) weakens and eventually destroys the body’s motor neurons, making functions such as walking and talking very difficult. Paralysis quickly results.

While the exact cause of ALS is unknown, risk factors include aging and a family history of the disease. Most people who contract the disease are between the ages of 40 and 70, though younger people can also contract the disease.

Who’s at risk?

Research has told us that veterans—particularly those who served in the Gulf War—are about twice as likely to develop ALS. Environmental factors and certain genetics may also play a role in causing ALS, but more research in this area is required to understand their causal effect.

How  PVA Supports

In 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs changed their benefits criteria to include ALS as a presumptive service-connected disease. Since the rule change, PVA’s national service officers and senior benefits advocates have represented around 11,000 veterans with ALS, and about 7,000 surviving spouses with claims for monetary benefits and quality health care. Claims filed on their behalf have resulted in $900 million in monetary and additional benefits.

Three types of ALS

  • Sporadic: The most common form in the U.S. It can affect anyone, in any part of the world.
  • Familial: An inherited form of the disease. Only 5-10% of ALS cases in the U.S. appear to be familial.
  • Guamanian: A high incidence of ALS found in Guam and the Trust Territories of the Pacific in the 1950s.

Learn more about our support of veterans living with ALS by visiting the Les Turner ALS Foundation.