Blackduck man fighting for ex-son-in-law's veteran's benefits

Some veterans return from war with souvenirs such as shell casings or other artifacts. Chris (Kip) Blomquist believes he returned from war with something much more serious and deadly, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gerhig's Disease.

Some veterans return from war with souvenirs such as shell casings or other artifacts. Chris (Kip) Blomquist believes he returned from war with something much more serious and deadly, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gerhig's Disease.

Blomquist, 37, is a 1989 graduate of Cambridge High School. He served four years in the Navy and was sent to the Middle East for the Gulf War and Operation Cleanup. He and his wife, Shannon, have four children, Mitchell, Breana, Jordan and Madison.

Last August, he was baiting for bear with Mitchell when he collapsed getting out of his truck. His legs locked up and he couldn't bend his knees. Over the next couple of weeks, he experienced similar episodes. In September, he went to a chiropractor for treatment of what he thought was a pinched nerve. He was advised to go to the hospital.

Blomquist spent time at Abbott Northwestern, Hennepin County Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic undergoing a variety of tests. Finally the diagnosis was confirmed. He had ALS, an incurable, fatal disease. The news devastated the couple, who had been married three years.

ALS is a relatively rare disease. According to the ALS Association, about 5,600 people are diagnosed with ALS each year, with the average age of diagnosis at age 55. Half the people with ALS will live at least three years, 20 percent will live at least five years and 10 percent will live 10 or more years.


ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. As the disease progresses, the brain's ability to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed before they die.

The causes of ALS are not known. Genetics may be a factor. Blomquist and his family are convinced it is connected to his experiences in the Gulf War -- and the government might be in agreement.

According to a nationwide-study by the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans of the Persian Gulf War are twice as likely as other military personnel to develop ALS. The one-year study assessed the health of approximately 700,000 Gulf War veterans and 1.8 million veterans who were not sent to the Persian Gulf. All of the veterans who participated in the study were on active duty between Aug. 2, 1990 and July 31, 1991.

The study found 40 cases of ALS in the 700,000 Gulf War veterans which is equivalent to a one in 17,500 chance of getting the disease. In the group of 1.8 million veterans who were not in the Gulf War, 67 cases of ALS were identified which is equivalent to a one in 26,866 chance.

Now, Blomquist's father-in-law by his first marriage, Galin Sylvester of Blackduck, is hard at work, trying to get medical and other benefits for Blomquist and others with similar conditions -- benefits he says are being denied. Sylvester said so far, efforts to get help from the Veterans Administration and others government agencies have been fruitless.

"The government just sits there and does nothing," said Sylvester.

He says Blomquist has yet to receive any medical or disability benefits. "He's never even gotten a physical. We've talked with everybody we could -- local and state representative, senators, congressmen, and have gotten no response."

Blomquist isn't even getting Social Security disability benefits.


"He'd have to quit his job to get them," Sylvester explained. "He can't do that. He's trying to keep his house. He just keeps pushing and pushing. He tries to work a four-day week, but sometimes it's only a day or two. He's fading."

Blomquist has been able to continue working thanks to adaptive technology provided by the HCMC ALS Center including voice-activated items. He is a machining supervisor at Pellco Machine. Sylvester said the company has been very accommodating and helpful. He says HCMC is also helping make the Blomquist home more accessible, but the funding is limited.

Blomquist's wife, Shannon, said the lack of governmental help has been very discouraging. She said they were told six months ago that an effort was being made to speed up benefits, but nothing has happened.

"We've had a lot of conversations with quite a few people. We've sent letters to the VA. We've made phone calls," she said. "Why are we not even getting a phone call back?"

She said her husband is trying to take everything in stride, holds no grudges and is staying as positive as possible, but even he is becoming disillusioned. "He says, 'I served my country and this is not fair,'" she said.

A benefit dinner and auction was held March 1 at the Cambridge American Legion. Sylvester called the turnout overwhelming. He said when people were told of the lack of government support, "they were disgusted and irate." He said there were many in attendance in positions of influence or know legislators or other officials.

"I can't help but believe somebody is going to get the wheels to start turning," he said.

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