ALS Awareness Month: Thomas R. Mikolajcik, Brig Gen. USAF (Ret.)

Brigadier General Thomas R Mikolajcik was a strong advocate for people with ALS and veterans with ALS. He was particularly strong in his advocacy for ALS to be service connected for all veterans and for the government to engage in meaningful research. In 2007 this is, in part, his testimony in front of Congress regarding veterans with ALS:

We are currently exposing 100’s of thousands more service members to the elevated risk of this disease.  There will be young men, women, and families celebrating a return from Iraq and Afghanistan alive, who have no idea that they may soon be facing a certain death from ALS.  We will have to answer those families when they ask what the government has been doing to prepare for this onslaught.  For this reason, the government is compelled to assume leadership of this issue.

If these soldiers were dying in the field …. rather than quietly at home as a consequence of their service, we would leave no stone unturned.  We would use the best existing resources and programs to make sure they had whatever they needed to survive….to ensure that no man or woman is left behind.

This is a letter he submitted to the secretary of the VA in 2007:

Dear Secretary Nicholson,

In 2001, the Veterans’ Administration and Department of Defense rightly recognized the relationship between Gulf War service and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly referred to as Lou Gerhig’s Disease. At that time the V A duly decided that Gulf War veterans with ALS automatically received a service connected disability. It also expedited ALS cases because this relentless disease, which is a death sentence, progresses so rapidly. This decision was widely applauded because of the compassion it showed to those who have served our country so bravely.

Since that time, an important study conducted at The Harvard School of Public Health has concluded that not just Gulf veterans, but all veterans are a higher risk of developing ALS. The 2005 Weisskopfstudy found that veterans who have served at any time in the last century are at a 60% greater risk than the general population. In a recent review of all relevant scientific literature, the National Academies Institute of Medicine concluded that “the implication is that military service in general-not confined to exposures specific to the Gulf War-is related to the development of ALS.”

These findings would suggest that the V A is therefore only granting benefits to a specific portion of those exposed to whatever trigger is responsible for our veterans’ increased risk. How can we differentiate between all veterans with a 1.6 higher incident rate and Gulf War veterans with a 2.0 higher incident rate than the general population?

Because of the appropriate precedent set in 2001 and the additional studies subsequent to that, the V A should now grant service-connected disability to all veterans! I would be more than happy to discuss this further with you or your staff. You may contact me at 843-971-5000.

Very respectfully,

Thomas R. Mikolajcik
Brig. Gen. USAF (Ret.)

Brig. General’s Testimony

Mikolajcik’s efforts for veterans with ALS met with success. In September of 2008, it became a presumptive disease in the VA.

To read more about ALS and the military see this blog:

On his gravestone: Brigadier General Thomas Roy Mikolajcik USAF (Ret.), age 63, husband of Carmen Heft Mikolajcik was Killed in Action April 17, 2010 after battling ALS for six and one-half years.