Study Finds Gulf War Illness is Real
December 24, 2008
A report delivered Nov. 17 by a congressionally mandated committee of scientists and veterans has determined that Gulf War illness is a very real disease caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, including pesticides and a drug given to protect servicemembers from nerve gas.
The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, which included Assistant National Legislative Director Adrian M. Atizado, says the disease has no effective treatments and has urged that Congress appropriate $60 million a year to study and develop new, effective medical care.
“Gulf War veterans have suffered for nearly two decades while their illnesses were studied and researched,” said Atizado. “Their health worsened, and their complaints were discounted or blamed on deployment stress despite the fact that Gulf War veterans have lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder than veterans of other wars.”
Gulf War illness is a combination of memory and concentration problems, persistent headaches, unexplained fatigue, and widespread pain. It may also include chronic digestive problems, respiratory symptoms and skin rashes.
The report estimates that at least one in four of the 697,000 veterans of the 1991 Gulf War suffer from the illness, which it primarily attributes to the drug pyridostigmine bromide, given to troops to protect against nerve gas and pesticides widely used during the Gulf War.
The committee also found associations between Gulf War illness and low-level exposures to nerve agents, smoke from oil well fires, large numbers of vaccines, and other toxins.
The Department of Defense says that about 100,000 servicemembers were potentially exposed to low-level nerve agents resulting from the demolitions of Iraqi munitions near Khamisiyah, Iraq, in 1991. A 2007 study found that low-level exposure to nerve gas could cause lasting brain deficits in Gulf War troops.
Gulf War veterans also have significantly higher rates of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis than other veterans.
Servicemembers who were downwind from the Khamisiyah demolitions have died from brain cancer at twice the rate of other Gulf War veterans.
The committee’s report says research is now available to consistently indicate that “Gulf War illness is real, that it is the result of neurotoxic exposures during Gulf War deployments and that few veterans have recovered or substantially improved with time.”
It called for a renewed federal research commitment to find treatments to improve the health of Gulf War veterans and to prevent similar problems in future deployments.
“This should be an urgent national goal to restore as much as possible the health and well-being of Gulf War servicemembers,” said Atizado. “These veterans have suffered too long hoping for answers and assistance.”
The report and findings were presented to the Department of Veterans Affairs in hopes for an end to the declining federal funding for Gulf War research and treatment, and the creation of renewed federal research commitments to improve the health of affected Gulf War veterans.
“In addition, we would hope the VA would make Gulf War illness a presumptive disability for those who served in the Gulf War,” said Atizado. “The time has come for the VA and the nation to recognize that Gulf War illness is a fact, and should be considered in deciding the disability of our veterans.”
Veterans with questions about Gulf War illness should contact their local National Service Office