ALS can strike anyone, anywhere and at anytime, but veterans may be at a higher risk.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, is a fatal progressive neurodegenerative disease, and 5,600 people in the United States are diagnosed with it each year.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, ALS is now considered to be connected in some way with serving in the military.
In 2008, the department put into effect new regulations that recognized ALS as a service-connected disease. Any veteran or family member of a veteran diagnosed with ALS can now receive compensation.
"It is now accepted by the veterans as being caused by being in the service," said Ed Burris, director of Warren County's Veterans Affairs office. "Any veteran that served 90 days, has an honorable discharge or surviving spouse is encouraged to put in a claim."
Burris said ALS is to believed to be triggered by the stress level of being on active duty, and there is evidence that there is "a higher number of veterans that have ALS."
According to the ALS Association website, 15 new cases are reported each day and 30,000 Americans have the disease at any given time.
ALS, according to information provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, is a chronic, progressive disease marked by gradual degradation of the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement, and "this disorder causes muscle weakness and atrophy."
Symptoms commonly appear in middle to late adulthood, ages 40 to 70 years old, with the average age being 55.
Initial symptoms of the disease, according to the ALS website, include muscle weakness in arms, hands, legs, difficulty breathing, cramping of the hands and feet, "thick speech" and in more advanced stages shortness of breath and difficulty breathing and swallowing.
Currently, the cause of ALS is unknown and there is no effective treatment.
In addition to the compensation benefits for ALS, the Department of Defense has provided a total of $10 million in funding for the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Research Program.
For more information about ALS or compensation benefits, contact Warren County Veterans Affairs Office at 723-3477 or log on to www.va.gov and www.defenselink.mil.