Former military members 50 percent more likely to get ALS

BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. — There’s been a flood of online attention for people suffering from ALS –“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”– thanks to those ubiquitous ice bucket videos.

Researchers say military veterans are among the most susceptible to the disease, and no one can explain why.

Blue Springs native Bill Grimm and his family say doctors gave him a year — or maybe two — to live after his diagnosis with ALS. That was late 1979, and he had just completed his time serving in the United States Navy.

Since then, he has lived with the disease, beating the odds physicians had given him. The Midwest region of the ALS Association says former military members are among the most susceptible to ALS, 50 percent more likely than others to get it.

Nowadays, Grimm is a 74-year-old retiree, helping babysit his grandson. But as a sailor serving during the Vietnam era, Grimm was a petty officer second-class, assisting in the recovery of space capsules on two of NASA’s Gemini space missions.

Thirty-five years after his diagnosis, Grimm is still alive, using his walker to get around.

“I heard that you’re 50 percent more likely to have ALS if you were in the military,” Grimm said.

“Some people only live a few months,” Betty Grimm, Bill’s wife of 42 years, said. “It was terrible and it could have been that way, but fortunately, it wasn’t.”

A spokesperson for the ALS Association says researchers can’t explain the connection between military service and ALS.

“I guess it doesn’t matter what service you were in or how long you were in or anything,” Grimm said. “If you were in the service, it was considered a service-connected disability.”

The recent flood of social media ice bucket challenges has brought ALS into everyday conversation. Grimm says awareness of the disorder can only be a positive.

“I think the more awareness you’ve got, the more funds you can raise,” Grimm said. “It’s bound to help find a cure if there is a cure.”

Grimm says his outlook on the future is brighter than ever. He says he feels great, and refuses to allow ALS to slow him down.

And while it seems like just about everyone is stepping up to take the ice bucket challenge, there are some you won’t see getting drenched.

The U.S. State Department banned American ambassadors and other foreign service officers from taking part. The department says it conflicts with its ethics rules preventing them from using their positions for private gains.

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