Study Shows Veterans Of Post-9/11 Conflicts Experience Increased Risk Of ALS

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Modern day military service has been linked to a debilitating disease later in life.

According to “Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Among Veterans Deployed in Support of Post-9/11 U.S. Conflicts,” a study published in the journal Military Medicine, numbers of veterans with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) have increased in the last two decades. At the highest risk are Air Force personnel, tactical operation officers, and health care workers.

As ALS News Today reports, this indicates that deployed military service members are more often experiencing early onset ALS.

The authors of the study looked at veterans of wars from the Gulf War and earlier. They found cases of ALS in 6.7 per million vets from the Gulf War group, while ALS occurred in non-deployed individuals in only 3.5 cases per million.

Source: U.S. Army
ALS has been reported at greater rates among young veterans.


Before this study, little data had been collected on veterans of post-9/11 U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These veterans are obviously younger than those of earlier wars, but they also have suffered a different range of injuries, in both effect and severity. According to ALS News Today, they have also been exposed to “unique occupational exposures that may result in a higher risk for ALS.”

More recently, cases of traumatic brain injury have been diagnosed in greater numbers in the veteran community. The authors of the study believe it may play a factor in the onset of this progressive neurological disease.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense
Gulf War veterans are at a higher risk of ALS than those from previous wars.


“Given the relatively high prevalence of TBI among Post-9/11 deployed U.S. war Veterans, it is important to examine the association of TBI with ALS in this population,” they wrote.

This recent study involved a total of 1,149,620 veterans of post-9/11 wars who had been treated at Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities between 2002 and 2015. There were 139 confirmed cases of ALS in that population, occurring in veterans around 40 years old.

The researchers determined that ALS occurred in these veterans of post-9/11 conflicts at a rate of 19.7 per 100,000 over the course of 14 years, while it only affected Gulf War veterans at a rate of 5.8 per 100,000 over 10 years.

Source: Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center
Researchers believe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) may be a precursor or catalyst to ALS.


Confirmed cases of ALS were higher among caucasian men, especially Air Force personnel, tactical operation officers, and health care workers, but lower among Marines.

“This suggests the need for evaluating the role of occupational exposures these personnel are exposed to, such as ionizing radiation, electromagnetic fields, ozone, jet emissions, noise etc., in the pathogenesis of ALS,” the study maintains.

Signals of ALS include depression, cardiac disease, cerebrovascular disease, high blood pressure, and obstructive sleep apnea, were common among the veteran population, possibly playing a part in bringing on the degenerative disease.

Still, there’s no definitive link.

Source: New Jersey State Library
There is yet much more research that needs to be done to pinpoint the rise in ALS cases among veterans.


“Research examining military risk factors and occupational exposures that lead to early onset of ALS is needed to determine if occupational safety approaches can reduce risk for this terminal disease,” the researchers stated. “Furthermore, there is a need for future ALS surveillance measures in this population as more cases of ALS may develop with the aging of this cohort.”

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.
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