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Date:  Nov. 10, 2006

Contacts:  Christine Stencel, Media Relations Officer

Michelle Strikowsky, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <>




Studies Suggest a Possible Link Between Military Service and ALS


WASHINGTON -- A limited body of evidence suggests an association between military service and later development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a rare but fatal neurodegenerative disorder, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine.  Further research is needed to confirm this link given that only five studies have been conducted on the relationship between military service and ALS. 


Three studies indicate that Gulf War veterans' chances of developing ALS -- commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease -- are as much as two times higher than those of the general population or of veterans who served during the same era but were not deployed to the Persian Gulf during the 1990-1991 conflict.  Another study reported that military service prior to the Gulf War is associated with a 1.5-fold increased risk of developing the disorder.  The fifth study did not find an association between military service and ALS.


ALS affects roughly 0.01 percent of the U.S. population -- 20,000 to 30,000 people -- at any given time.  People with the rare disorder experience a progressive breakdown of nerve cells that control the muscles, which eventually results in paralysis and usually death. 


"The evidence base to answer the question of whether military service increases a person's chances of developing ALS later in life is rather sparse, so we could not reach more definitive conclusions at this time," said Richard T. Johnson, chair of the committee that wrote the report and Distinguished Service Professor of Neurology, School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.   "Because ALS occurs so rarely, any individual veteran's chances of developing the disease are still low," he added.


More high-quality studies on the relationship between military service and ALS are needed to provide additional evidence of an association, the report says.  Research also should explore what might be causing ALS among veterans -- whether it could be chemicals, involvement in traumatic events, intensive physical activity, or other substances or activities that might be encountered during military service.   

Currently, veterans of the Persian Gulf War receive disability compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs if they develop ALS, but other veterans do not.


The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  A committee roster follows.



Copies of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in Veterans: Review of the Scientific Literature are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


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[This news release and report are available at ]




Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice


Committee on the Review of the Scientific Literature on

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in Veterans


Richard T. Johnson, M.D. (chair)

Distinguished Service Professor of Neurology, Microbiology, and Neuroscience

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine



Walter G. Bradley, D.M., F.R.C.P.

Professor and Chair

Department of Neurology

Miller School of Medicine

University of Miami



Beate R. Ritz, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.

Professor and Vice Chair

Department of Epidemiology

School of Public Health

University of California

Los Angeles


Walter A. Rocca, M.D., M.P.H

Professor of Epidemiology and Neurology

Mayo Clinic College of Medicine

Rochester, Minn.


Jeremy M. Shefner, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor and Chair

Department of Neurology

Upstate Medical University

State University of New York



Christina Wolfson, Ph.D.

Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics

McGill University





Abigail Mitchell, Ph.D.

Study Director