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Why do military veterans have greater risk of getting ALS?

Medical community pushing for more research to answer questions

MIRAMAR, Fla. – Former military veteran John Hartwell never imagined that serving his country could put him at a greater risk for contracting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

The disease progressively paralyzes its victims, attacking nerve cells and pathways in the brain or spinal cord.

"Basically, from my initial diagnosis, it was like being given a death sentence and not being able to appeal it," Hartwell said.

Dr. Ashook Verma, medical director of the ALS Center at the University of Miami, said the link between ALS and military veterans remains a mystery.

"We don't know what the cause is, what the mechanism is, and what is the link that doubles as time goes by," Verma said.

That is why Verma and others in the medical community are pushing for more funding toward research.

"It really needs to have a bigger effort, something like the Manhattan Project, in order to have an ALS cure," he said.

Hartwell’s form of the disease is slow in its progression, and he is hoping clinical trials currently underway around the globe will provide a breakthrough for him and for others suffering from ALS.

“There’s so much research in so many countries, I just hope to be around for it to have some effect on me,” Hartwell said.