Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a crippling non-contagious autoimmune disease of the nervous system. It destroys myelin, our nerves protective covering, rendering nerves ineffective and diminishing communication between the brain and body. Symptoms vary among sufferers but include blurred vision, depression, fatigue, weakness, tingling or numbness in one or more limbs and extreme cases involve losing the ability to speak and walk altogether. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, approximately 2.3 million people have MS worldwide.
While the exact cause and cure are unknown, numerous factors may contribute to developing MS including gender, genetics, age, geography and ethnic background. Scientists have suggested infection, stress, chemicals and a combination of genetics and external influences but no conclusive evidence exists. Interestingly, one study confirmed incident rates among military personnel are higher than other populations, with African Americans suffering the highest rates. This validates the correlation between military service and MS is substantial; we just have not yet identified the precise source.
Since preventing and curing MS is not possible, mitigating symptoms and progression is the only relief currently available to sufferers. Traditional treatment includes various medication, physical therapy and surgery whereas alternative treatment includes acupuncture, herbal remedies and the versatile yoga. The VA offers traditional treatment whether Veterans are service connected for this disease, or not. While treatment impedes the progression of MS, early diagnosis is preferable but somewhat problematic.
First, no medical test or examination definitively diagnoses MS. Further, initial symptoms surface then disappear for months effectively eliminating hopes of early diagnosis. Unfortunately, this unpredictable and unreliable symptomology frequently results in misdiagnosis among service members particularly during earlier generations when awareness was lower. Consequently, accurate diagnoses tend to occur years after symptoms first appear and often times long after military service.
The difficulties involved in diagnosing MS resulted in Federal law defining the presumptive period following military service as seven years, the longest among presumptive conditions. In 2007, Washington Senator Patty Murray championed an honorable but unsuccessful attempt to change the presumptive period from seven years to indefinitely. Such efforts deserve support and ultimately another endeavor after successfully identifying the cause.
If diagnosed with MS, obtain your C-file and investigate what medical treatment you received during your military service. Initial symptoms are usually very subtle and require medical expert review of the evidence to determine when the disease actually manifested. If manifestation occurred at least within seven years following service, you should pursue disability benefits.