As scientists and doctors learn more about the lasting effects of war on the body, the list of service-related illnesses grows.
Among those recently added: ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Studies show male veterans have a nearly 60 percent greater risk than male civilians of getting the progressive and fatal neuromuscular disease.
Ellyn Phillips, president of the ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter, said that trend holds across many branches of service, regardless of combat experience.
“We’re talking about World War Two up into the present, so it’s very hard to put all those people into a category and say, aha, this is what happened,” Phillips said.
The cause of ALS is unknown, as is the reason why military members have an elevated risk.
In 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs declared it a service-connected disease.
That means veterans who are diagnosed with ALS are eligible for health care and disability benefits.
Phillips said, since that listing, military families have been among the association’s strongest advocates for research funding.
Take, for example, the family of Tom Phelan, an Air Force veteran who died of ALS last year at age 49. His widow, Karolina Fraczkowska of Lawrenceville, N.J., promised to go to Washington, D.C. with ALS advocates every year to lobby for more money for research and a veterans ALS database.
“I feel a very special connection with the military because we met so many families who also were destroyed or touched by ALS who are service members,” Fraczkowska said. “It was unbelievable how many of them we met.”
Fraczkowska and two of her three children will also ride in the ALS Express Ride to Defeat ALS in Wildwood on May 30.