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A Message from Jerelyn Smith, Former Private E 1, United States Army

Jerelyn Smith 5

I was born, raised, and live in California. I had wanted to serve in the military for most of my life. Determined that this would be my career, I took ROTC in college and joined the United States Army when I was just 22. One day, I was playing softball with my unit, and as I was running to second base, my leg gave out. Then I started having lots of problems walking, to such an extent that my 2nd Lieutenant told me, “If you can’t march and you can’t run, we can’t use you anymore.” I received an Honorable Discharge in July 1982. 

I decided to start on a new path and return to college, and I received a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. But over the years, my strange symptoms continued to worsen. My speech was the first thing I noticed, and then I started falling for no apparent reason. I was finally diagnosed with ALS in 1992, at the age of 28.  

I learned about the Golden West Chapter and registered for services in 2005. I have been very grateful for their help and support through their many care services programs. I wanted to support raising awareness and funding for their mission. My family, friends, and I attended several Walks to Defeat ALS, and together, we also took on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2014. As a part of my efforts to help the search for effective treatments and cures for ALS, I participated in clinical trials at UCLA and Loma Linda.

I did not know that people who have served in the military are more likely to be diagnosed with ALS than our civilian counterparts. Thanks to the efforts of ALS Golden West, and ALS advocates, ALS was recognized as a service-connected disease by the Department of Defense in 2008. This designation allows veterans, service members, and military families facing ALS to access important Veterans Administration (VA) benefits that would have otherwise been out of reach. 

There may still be people out there who haven’t filed for VA benefits because they are missing important information. Some people think you can’t file if you’re still working or if you already have health insurance, and others have been incorrectly told that they don’t qualify for benefits. 

It comes down to this: If you are a veteran or a military service member with 90 days or more on active duty in any branch and have been diagnosed with ALS, you may be eligible for VA benefits. If you are the surviving spouse or child of a veteran who died from ALS, you also may be eligible for VA benefits. 

Whether you are working or not, or have health insurance or not, I strongly urge you to talk to your Chapter Care manager and file a claim. Even if you never use the VA for your healthcare needs, you may be eligible for monthly compensation, home modifications, modified vehicle purchases, durable medical equipment, family benefits, and more. And you will always have a backup source for healthcare needs. It’s always better to have that in place when you don’t need it than have to rush and try to file your claim when you are in dire need. 

ALS has tremendously affected my life, and it can be very difficult. Because I am in a wheelchair and have speech impairment, many people talk around me, like I don’t understand what is being said. They are often surprised by my intellect and that I know every word coming out of their mouths. It is hard not being able to drive and having to depend on others for my daily existence or being left out of things because I can’t ride in a regular car. The most difficult part is that 90% of people don’t understand what I’m saying, or they think I am slurring due to intoxication. 

As a person living with ALS, I want to remind others to never give up, stay positive, and keep living your life! Even though I have been facing the challenges of this disease for over 30 years, I was able to go back to school to get my Masters of Science in Management in Criminal Justice and Masters of Business Administration degrees. I have yet to find my significant other, but I know he’s out there! The VA, your local clinic, and the Golden West Chapter can really support you and have many resources to help veterans, service members, and military families facing ALS

Thank you for your continued commitment to the ALS community. By advocating and donating, you are making a profound difference in the lives of all of us affected by this brutal disease. Your support of the Golden West Chapter has made coping with this disease much more manageable, both for me and for my family. Together, we are making progress in the search for effective treatments and cures for ALS.

Keep smiling!

Jerelyn Smith
Former Private E 1, United States Army

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