A veteran that has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease has certainly been dealt a tough hand; however, there is hope.  With the direction and assistance of a qualified medical specialist, as well as an experienced veteran's disability lawyer, it's very possible that a disabled veteran can live a fulfilling, independent life.

The first question that needs to be answered: "What exactly is Lou Gehrig's Disease?"

Lou Gehrig's Disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a disease that affects a veteran's brain and spinal cord nerve cells, both of which are responsible for voluntary muscle movement control.  ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, meaning the disease becomes worse with time until the veteran is overcome by its symptoms.  Everyday tasks become increasingly difficult, and if left untreated become impossible to perform. and even breathing become difficult or impossible without assistance. The breakdown of the nerve receptors from motor neurons degenerate to the point that they can no longer send an impulse to the fibers in a muscle that would normally illicit movement in the muscle resulting the muscle basically "dying" from lack of use.  The most debilitating aspect of Lou Gehrig's disease for veterans and soldiers is that while they are slowly becoming paralyzed on the outside, their senses and minds are still alive and well.  

Veterans with little knowledge of the disease may wonder, "What are the symptoms of and signs of Lou Gehrig's Disease?"

Initial signs or symptoms that veterans and soldiers may experience include muscle weakness and decreases in the ability of the arms and legs, and also the muscles that control speech, swallowing and/or breathing.  As these muscles stop being able to receive impulse to move, they begin to atrophy and "shrink" due to inactivity.  Also associated with the disease are uncontrolled muscle spasms or contractions, swelling of the extremities, drooling, weight loss from muscle atrophy and inability to control the head's movement or holding up of one's head.  The disease is often fatal, and the average survival is 3-5 years after being diagnosed as the disease destroys the nerve cells in the brain and spine.

The immediate question a veteran may have after diagnosis is, "How did I acquire Lou Gehrig's Disease or ALS?"

Approximately 10% of all individuals diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's are victim of a genetic defect or inherited the problem.  However, unless inherited, the cause of the disease is still unknown.  Veterans and soldiers, however, are much more likely to develop the disease though, according to recent studies conducted.  Theories of the mental and physical stress, war-related exposures and other ideas have been proposed, but nothing has been narrowed down as the main contributing cause or causes for the increase in veterans and soldiers being diagnosed with the disease.

After diagnosis, the veteran will ask, "What Treatment is Available for Lou Gehrig's Disease?"

Veterans and soldiers who have been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's or ALS, eventually become disabled as more and more of their voluntary muscles become paralyzed.  There are some medications that can help control the symptoms of the disease and possibly make daily living more manageable, but the medications do not reverse or stop the disease and there is currently no treatment for Lou Gehrig's.  In addition to the medication management of symptoms, much can be done for veterans and soldiers who are afflicted to live an independent life.  Physical therapy and rehab options are available to help re-teach how to live without certain physical functionality, and some veterans and soldiers can benefit from the use of mobility devices such as braces, canes, walkers or wheelchairs. 

James R. Keller
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