JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania — Local veterans and members of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society gathered in the Holiday Inn along Market Street Wednesday to recognize U.S. Rep. John Murtha for securing funds for medical research.
Approximately $5 million has been allocated to the society through the U.S. Department of Defense. Murtha secured the funding through the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.
“We’re here to thank Congressman Murtha and to talk about an important program in achieving funding for medical research,” said David Chatel, executive vice president of advocacy for the organization.
The funding has been the result of efforts by society members and veterans seeking more research to answer questions about the disease, board Chairman Robert Bernstein said.
The primary purpose of the event is to understand what MS is, how it affects people and what the society is doing to stop it, he said.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society attempted to secure an appropriation for research in 2007, but did not. The organization was later recognized by Congress and added to the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.
“We recognize the tremendous need for MS research,” Pittsburgh division board member Geoff Kelly said. “We understand our activists have a vision of a world without MS; make no mistake, we will get there.”
Tom Caulfield of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania stated during his speech that many cases of multiple sclerosis among veterans are linked to combat service. This link is most clear among Gulf War veterans and could be due to a neurotoxin, said Caulfield, who donated $500 to the organization.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society vice president of federal government relations Shawn O’Neail said this could be because there is more data available on veterans from the Gulf War than Vietnam War veterans.
O’Neail said a study of Kuwaiti residents shows the number of multiple sclerosis cases doubling in the last six years, indicating a possible environmental trigger for MS.
The event closed with an award ceremony for Murtha’s contribution and a short speech from activist Angela Gorzelsky, who suffers from the disease. Murtha was unable to attend to the event. The award was accepted by the congressman’s district director, Mark Critz.
“Everything we can do comes from everybody out there,” Gorzelsky said. “It really will make a difference.”
More information about the National Multiple Sclerosis Society can be found online at www.nationalMSsociety.org/PAX or by calling 1-800-FIGHT-MS.
Written by RANDY GRIFFITH, Johnstown (Penn.) Tribune-Democrat
George “Murph” Neelan of suburban Pittsburgh started losing control of his muscles
24 years ago, and the condition has gotten progressively worse.
Bill Taafe of Duncansville developed visual problems so severe he couldn’t drive and was virtually housebound for eight months in 1979, but he has had few problems since then.
The two men have two things in common: Both are veterans and both have multiple sclerosis.
And both were in Johnstown on Wednesday for a town hall meeting to raise awareness of the need for multiple sclerosis research and the possible threat to military veterans of combat.
“We have a strong indication of a link between combat-service veterans and MS,” said Tom Caulfield, regional coordinator for the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania and director of Veteran Community Initiatives in Cambria County.
Those who fought in the first Gulf War in particular have elevated rates for multiple sclerosis, he said.
About 28,000 veterans are receiving care for multiple sclerosis through the Veterans Adminstration, Caulfield said.
An estimated 5,300 cases are thought to be service-connected.
But only about one in three eligible veterans receives health care through the Veteran’s Adminstration, Caulfield said.
“Some of the research we want funded would find out who some of these other veterans are,” he said.
In the past few years, funding available for multiple sclerosis research has dropped even as the incidence of the disease has increased, David Chatel, National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s executive vice president for advocacy, told the audience at the meeting in Holiday Inn-Downtown, 250 Market St.
Backed by national veterans’ groups, the society was able to have $5 million for research added to the Defense Department’s budget.
The society is asking for $15 million next year.
Research is vital, Neelan said.
“I came here to give support,” he said. “These grants for research can help find a cure.”
The Multiple Sclerosis Society provides vital support for those dealing with the neurological disease, he said.
“I say am the luckiest man in the world because I have had so much help and support from the MS Society and my friends and family,” Neelan said.