Veterans and Multiple Sclerosis

Veterans and Multiple Sclerosis

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One of the more vivid memories of my hospital stay for Transverse Myelitis was my mother’s conspiracy theory for why I was lying in a hospital bed non-functioning from the waist down.  She believed that I developed Multiple Sclerosis from something I was exposed to in the Navy. This was one theory that I bought into a little bit.

I went into the Navy after high school in 1994. After boot camp, I was assigned to a pre-commissioned ship, USS Cole DDG 67. When the ship was commissioned, we spent a lot of time at sea. One of my primary duties on the ship was to stand watch. Two of the watches that I would stand every day, were on a platform directly above the port and starboard Aegis radar systems. For two hours a day, I would be positioned within arm’s length from one the most powerful radars in the world. We were told not to look down over the edge because of the radiation exposure.  So what would I do…look over the edge.

Even when I wasn’t looking over the edge thinking to myself that I didn’t feel anything, I was positioned over these powerful radars for two hours a shift or four hours a day for as long as we were at sea. There is no doubt in my mind that exposure to these powerful radar waves over time could factor into why I was lying in my hospital bed, non-functional from the waist down. When I was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I wanted to research my mom’s conspiracy theory. What I learned was surprising:

MS Incidence Study among Gulf War Era Veterans

  • Researchers reviewed medical records and data from the DoD and VA for cases of MS in patients who served in the military between 1990, the start of the Gulf War era, and 2007, as well as those who were service-connected for this disorder by VA from 1990 on.
  • A total of 2,691 patients were confirmed as having multiple sclerosis: 2,288 definite, 190 possible, 207 clinically isolated syndrome and 6 Neuromyelitis Optica.
  • Of those, 1,278 were white males and 556 were white females; 360 were black males and 296 were black females. Of the 200 in the other category, 153 (77%) were Hispanic.
  • Interestingly, many earlier studies had found the highest rates among whites of northern European backgrounds.

(Statistics citied from “Surprises in MS Incidence Study among Gulf War Era Veterans”, U.S. Medicine)

While I was surprised at the high incidence of MS among the peers I served with, I was more surprised at what the Veterans Administration (VA) was doing about it. The VA has established the Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence. If you are a veteran living with MS, you need to check out this website for great free resources available to you. This provides great resources for veterans living with MS, ways to connect or hear stories of other veterans living with MS and disability income forms.

On this Veteran’s Day Weekend, I salute the Veteran’s Administration for recognizing veterans living with Multiple Sclerosis. I also want to pay my respects to my shipmates that were lost or wounded during the tragic bombing of my beloved USS Cole in October of 2000. Although I was no longer in the military at the time of the bombing, as long as I live you will never be forgotten. I also want to pay my respect to all veterans and family of veterans. Thank you for your service, dedication and sacrifice. Happy Veteran’s Day!




Me and my friend Anthony on the Cole

Matt and Anthony on the Cole




11 thoughts on “Veterans and Multiple Sclerosis

  1. I hope you’re getting a lot of views and more interest coming over because I’ve received 30, the most ever for me in one post. This is an important topic you’re bringing to light, Matt.
    All my best – Colleen

    1. Thank you Colleen! I’m glad that you enjoyed it and that it was meaningful to all those who have served this country. Happy Veteran’s Day everyone!

  2. matt– Thanks for the blog. I am a veteran with MS. Thing is I am a female Veteran with MS who was one of the first women onboard a non-hospital ship, USS VULCAN. I got out of the Navy after 8 years, in 1983 and started having symptom in 1992. I spent 4 years on VULCAN. I didn’t see where they were looking at older Vets just ones who’d left the service within the last 7 years. Is it worth my time to check it out?

    1. The form I read on the website said that you have to apply within seven years, but I have got some emails that say that they are approving claims after seven years. I would fill out a claim and see where it goes from there. It is definitely worth a shot! Good luck my friend!

        1. Happy Veteran’s Day to you too! Thank you for breaking down barriers and becoming one of the first women to serve on a naval ship. I am honored that you read my blog and hope that the information will help on your journey.

  3. I an Army Brat and I am a Vetran with MS, but served in the 70’s. Interesting point that several of my old friends that grew up on bases with me also have MS. I really think there has to be some type of exposure that triggers (not causes) the disease. Thank you all for your service.

  4. I served in the Air Force 88 thru 97, with3 tours in the Gulf……something was going on with my body from the end of my first your in 90 til I separated in 97. With frequent trips to “sick call” for pain, multiple scripts for motrin….being told “it’s all in your head” because they didn’t see anything on the x-ray. Til 07 ten yrs. after I separated, now married, my diagnosis of M.S. came and explained alot……my fatigue, frequently urination, and of course pain plus memory loss. But denied for compensation 3 times……..the struggle continues

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