ALS and military service connection

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Every year during the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon on WLOX, we hear about patients struggling with devastating neuro-muscular diseases, including Lou Gehrig's disease.  But there's a connection to the disease, many may not be aware of.  The military recently acknowledged that there is a connection between serving in the military, and Lou Gehrig's disease.

Army Sargeant Ken Patterson has the fatal disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's. It attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.  The diagnosis was a devastating blow. "You go through anger and then denial. I thought about ending my life."

His speech is affected by the disease. Ken  has lost his ability to walk and move. His wife Glenda,  is always by his side. Ken says "Without her, I wouldn't be here."

Ken and glenda want to know why veterans are more than twice as likely to develop A-L-S. They recently traveled from their home in Florida to Washington D-C by wheelchair, 940 miles total.

The goal of the three-week journey?  To raise awareness about the link between A-L-S and veterans. Doctor Lucie Bruijn,  Senior Vice President for Research and Development at the ALS Association in Tampa Florida, says there could be many causes. She says "Soldiers are often exposed to polluted air, chemical agents, radioactive waste and high-powered vaccines.  What I think is happening in the case of the military is there is an environmental exposure and a susceptibility."

The lifespan of someone diagnosed with a-l-s is about two to five years. There's just one drug approved to treat the disease, but it only extends life by about eight to 12 weeks and costs about one-thousand dollars a month. "The huge frustration is no, we don't quite have the answers yet. No, we don't have the therapies."

Ken wants answers but knows he doesn't have much time left. He plans to enjoy every minute with his family. "Live every day."

In september, the Veterans Administration recognized A-L-S as a service-connected disease. Because of that recognition, veterans with the disease will now have access to benefits. All branches of the military have a higher risk for developing A-L-S.