Veterans with ALS

The success of The Theory of Everything goes beyond the golden statue

When I saw actor Eddie Redmayne accept the Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, for me, it wasn't about the glamour or pageantry of the moment. It wasn't about Redmayne or even Hawking, perhaps the most well-known survivor of a profoundly debilitating condition— a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord that goes by a few names: ALS, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

My thoughts immediately went to the 4,000+ veterans with ALS who live an experience that Hollywood now found compelling enough to meaningfully recognize. I thought about the number of veterans who would become statistics, as veterans are twice as likely to incur ALS as the general population and only live an average of two to five years once diagnosed.

After a summer of watching the Ice Bucket Challenge successfully bring greater awareness to ALS and its impact, I'd feared that interest would taper and the plight of those who suffer ALS would once again slip back into the penumbra of society's focus. Hopefully, the success of "The Theory of Everything" will give the ALS awareness campaign new life, and the veterans, most of which will inevitably join the ranks of our membership once paralysis sets in, will reap the benefits.

Regardless, Paralyzed Veterans of America will continue to do what we've always done by serving as the lead voice and advocate for veterans with ALS and their survivors. We will continue to fight on their behalf for full and timely benefits as well as quality and accessible health care. Most importantly, we will urge everyone from average citizens to legislators to support education and research efforts that help mitigate the devastating effects of ALS and move us closer to a cure.

Hollywood deserves kudos on this one. But the general public needs to see more of what Paralyzed Veterans of America service officers witness every day across the country—stories of extraordinary courage in the face of tremendous odds. Let's hope we'll now see more movies that feature the lives of persons with disabilities, particularly children with special needs, people living lives in wheelchairs, and veterans who refuse to be defined by catastrophic disability.

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