September 23, 2021, marks the thirteenth anniversary of the Department of Veterans Affairs recognizing ALS as a service-related disease. Those who have served in the armed forces are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ALS than civilians. This applies to both those that served during peacetime and wartime.
Researchers have looked for decades for a link between military service and ALS, but none has been found. A 2019 ALS in the Military Report discussed findings from the 1990’s through recent years. It examined those in the military from as early as 1910. After a staggering amount of evidence was found, ALS was finally declared a service-related disease in 2008.
A Unique ALS Experience
With this status, the VA provides support to veterans who completed at least 90 days of consecutive service. This includes financial and medical support. Though there are specific benefits for veterans with ALS, they also have a different experience than most.
Veterans with ALS are in a unique position. They must balance the emotional toll of a devastating disease plus the emotional burden of serving in the military. They must also come to terms with the fact that their service to their country put them at risk for ALS.
Between their distinct emotional experiences and a separate support system through the VA, veterans with ALS are a niche group in our community. Their perspectives require an outlet where they can be fully understood by their fellow former servicemen fighting this disease.
Supporting Veterans with ALS Emotionally
ALS Texas is committed to supporting our veterans with ALS emotionally. In 2020, our team launched a new virtual support group for these veterans and their caregivers. Veterans with ALS across the entire Texas can connect with one another. Providing this community an outlet to discuss their unique ALS experience is crucial.
This group meets every third Tuesday of the month at Noon, and you can find the latest meeting time and register here. In the last year this group has grown tremendously along with its impact.
A Growing Impact on the Community
Many veterans joined this group and found a great sense of community from their peers with ALS. This includes veterans like Ron McAnally who is new to the ALS journey.
Ron served in the U.S. Army from 1974 to 1977. “Some people went to college. I had 3 years of ROTC in high school and joined the Army right out of school,” he shared. Ron’s MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was being a Voice Radio Operator with the 39th Signal Battalion, 128th Signal Company.
When he came back home his fight was not over as he was diagnosed with ALS in late 2020. The virtual ALS Veteran’s group has been a great resource for Ron and his wife May.
I came into this ALS Veteran Group scared, broken and unsure of what was going to happen to me and my wife. The veterans and some of their spouses in this group, that Steve Morse from the ALS Association of Texas provides for us, are helping me get through the initial impact of being diagnosed with this horrible disease and helping me and my wife to understand the VA benefits and how to get the help we need to live with this disease through the complicated VA system.
When asked how this group impacts this community, Ron shared the following. “Seeing other service members living with and battling this disease is heartbreaking, but the comradery with them is heartwarming, and they always let me know I’m not battling this ALS alone. They truly are my heroes.”
If you’re a Veteran in need of emotional support, we invite you to join this monthly group. If you’re not a veteran and need support, there are groups for you too!