I was in the US Navy in the late 90s and discharged under honorable conditions due to a medical condition in 1999 and receive a small monthly disability check from them ever since. The disability that I was discharged from has nothing to do with my MS. However, can my current disability be related to my service in the Navy? I worked with fire fighting crews when I was active duty. In the "A" school I attended to become a Naval Fire Fighter, one week is spent daily in the gas chamber as part of the training. This means that for several hours a day for 7 days I was exposed to CX (tear gas) without any sort of fresh air mask. One of the theories for developing MS is exposure to various toxins. Does this count as that type of exposure? This is the interpretation that the VA medical staff must now make in order to decide if my current state is related to my military service. Yet there are still several factors that at hinder this.
I spent 17 years as a fireman. Now, if you take 17 years from 2012, you come to 1995. If anyone worked as a fire fighter in 1995 they will be able to tell you that we didn't often wear our air masks until it got to the point that you could no longer breathe, or you noticed that you no longer had facial hair due to the fire claiming it as its own. I was no exception back then. My pack was their to keep me balanced and more often then not would end up being used to prop a door open whilst I battled the fire inside or searched for a victim. Who knew that all the crap in the air was hazardous? I mean, it's just like a big camp fire right? Nope, we were wrong.
I also worked at both the Pentagon and at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks. Well guess what we weren't wearing at those to sites? That's right, fresh air or filtration masks. Again, there was a job to do and back in the day (yup, just made myself sound old) we actually cared more about our victims than we did about ourselves. Man how the fire service has changed since those days. Funny enough though, when I submitted my claim to the 9/11 commission in regards to my MS, I was told that MS was not one of the recognized diseases from Ground Zero exposure. If I had developed cancer though, they would have been able to assist me with compensation, but MS, not so much.
I could submit my claim to the fire department and see what they say, but from what I have learned from discussing it with occupational health and safety, if it's not cancer, it's not conclusively related to exposure. Gotta love the system.
This leaves me with no conclusive source of my disease. Perhaps I just received an unlucky card in the game of life. Who knows. When you have a disease with no "official" origin of exposure and modern science can't prove without a doubt what triggered your illness, what do you do? Your occupation may have been the cause of it, or it could have been the microwave burrito you bought at that convenience store back in 1991. No one knows, and the answers has yet to be discovered. Mere suspicions as to what caused this disease are all one has to go on. Perhaps it was my exposure to a number of toxins, but can I identify which ones? Carbon and man made incinerated home items during years of fighting fires? Jet fuel, concrete dust, asbestos, and incinerated human remains during my time working at Ground Zero? All the Twinkies I ate as a child or the copious amounts of coffee consumed through my life? Which of those are to blame? No doctor will be able to give you the answer, because no one knows for sure what causes/triggers MS. Some people develop it, others never do. Perhaps it is hiding in your genes somewhere dormant until something in your life triggers it. Hopefully you will remain a lucky person and that will never happen to you. Of course, of you have read any of my other blogs you will see that it is not all bad and can result in some very funny moments in your life.
Again, these questions are left without answers by both doctors and by those of us with MS. If we all worked in the same career field and all developed this disease, we would have a difinitive answer. You work in fire/rescue, you will most likely get MS. If that were the answer to the question, I wonder how many people would still seek out a career in this field? I know that I personally would still do it because it truly is the most rewarding field of work and it truly is a "calling" rather than a career choice. But I still wonder if perhaps people would second guess that calling if they knew for certain that they would develop a disease such as this. Go figure, the answers we may never know. Either way, this is still just life, or something like it...