A federal report released November 17
concludes that Gulf War illness is
real and that roughly one in four of
the 697,000 U.S. Veterans who served in the
Persian Gulf War suffer from the illness.
According to the Research Advisory
Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses,
two chemicals cause Gulf War illness: the
drug pyridostigmine bromide (PB pills)
given to troops to protect against nerve gas,
and pesticides that were widely used – and
overused – to protect against sand flies and
The 452-page report compiled by a panel of
scientific experts and veterans serving on the
Committee confirms that, “scientific evidence
leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a
real condition with real causes and serious
consequences for affected veterans.”
According to 38 United States Code 1117,
Persian Gulf War veterans may experience
signs or symptoms of undiagnosed illness or a
chronic multi-symptom illness that includes:
In combination, these undiagnosed illnesses
- Unexplained rashes or other dermatological signs or symptoms
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Neurological signs and symptoms
- Signs or symptoms involving the upper or lower respiratory system
- Sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
- Abnormal weight loss
- Menstrual disorders
have been termed Gulf War Syndrome. The report
also notes a higher than average occurrence of
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), often
referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
“This is a bittersweet victory, (because) this
is what Gulf War veterans have been saying all
along,” Committee member Anthony Hardie
said. “Years were squandered by the federal
government…trying to disprove that anything
could be wrong with Gulf War veterans.”
Several previous reports issued by the Institute
of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy
of Sciences, had concluded that there was
little evidence to support Gulf War Syndrome.
However, the Committee’s report concludes
the previous reports were inappropriately
constrained by the VA. According to the panel,
the VA ordered the Institute to consider only
limited human studies and not extensive animal
research, thus skewing the earlier studies.
The Committee’s report, titled “Gulf War
Illness and the Health of Gulf War Veterans” was
officially presented to the Secretary of Veterans
Affairs Dr. James Peake. The report states
that the illness comes as a result of multiple
“biological alterations” affecting the brain and
The report does not rule out other contributing
factors, but notes there is no clear link between
Gulf War Syndrome and oil well fires, depleted
uranium or the anthrax vaccination. The suspect
nerve agent pills and pesticides no longer are
used in the military.
To view the entire report, go to www.oregon.
Association of the United States Army News: January 2009
Often diagnosed as a psychological problem, Gulf War illness is identified by panel as a legitimate physical ailment and calls for further research and better medical care for treating veterans
Long thought of as a psychological problem, Gulf War illness is a real ailment that continues to affect 26 to 32 percent of Gulf War veterans, according to a report released Nov. 17 through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
The congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses compiled the findings after six years of research and gathering evidence from veterans and medical reports from the past 17 years since the war.
Gulf War illness is typically characterized as a combination of symptoms such as memory problems, chronic headaches, widespread pain, fatigue, mood changes, persistent diarrhea, respiratory problems and skin rashes.
For the majority of veterans, the problems have not gone away.
With the release of the report, the committee hopes to open up more avenues of research into the illness and improve medical care for veterans who are still suffering its effects.
It’s an ailment that began being reported almost immediately by some troops serving during the Gulf War, and today, only 2 percent of those veterans say they have fully recovered, according to Lea Steele, a member of the committee.
VA Secretary James Peake accepted the findings and said the VA was already in the process of revising the guide to healthcare for Gulf War veterans. Lord Morris of Manchester, an advocate for Gulf War veterans from the United Kingdom, was also on hand to hear the report.
For years, it was speculated that “Gulf War Syndrome” was a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as result of trauma or combat stress, and that’s the guideline that most medical officials followed when treating patients, Steele said.
But, studies of Gulf War veterans consistently indicate that serving in combat and other psychological stressors during the war were not significantly associated with the illness.
The report’s findings implicate only two wartime exposures as causally associated with Gulf War illness: Use of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills and pesticides, either alone or in combination.
PB was issued to troops in packets of small white pills for protection against possible nerve agents, and multiple types of pesticides and insect repellents were used in theater.
Steele said PB use varied – some service members took many for a week or longer, some took them over many weeks or months, and some took very little or none at all. The longer term use, the greater the likelihood the veteran reported symptoms of Gulf War illness.
The Department of Defense estimates that about 250,000 personnel took at least some PB during the Gulf War.
Steele noted that other risk factors were investigated, such as low-level nerve agents, smoke from oil well fires, fuels, depleted uranium found in ammunition and vaccines.
While they can’t be ruled out entirely, there is no clear evidence they are related to Gulf War illness.
In light of the report, the committee recommends the VA commission the Institute of Medicine to redo the “Gulf War and Health Series” reports and allocate $60 million annual for research to identify treatments for veterans.
James H. Binns, a former principal deputy assistant secretary of defense who served as the panel’s chairman, said the report “provides a blueprint for the new administration to focus resources on improving the health of Gulf War veterans and avoiding similar consequences in fuA
118th Military Police Company detail fills sandbags at Rafha Airport in Saudi Arabia’s Northern Province in February 1991. A congressionally-mandated committee found that almost a third of Gulf War veterans continue to experience symptoms associated with Gulf War illness.
Often diagnosed as a psychological problem, Gulf War illness is identified by panel as a legitimate physical ailment and calls for further research and better medical care for treating veteransture military deployments.”
“Addressing the serious and persistent health problems affecting 175,000 Gulf War veterans remains the obligation of the federal government and all who are indebted to the military men and women who risked their lives in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia 17 years ago,” the report read. “This obligation is made more urgent by the length of time Gulf War veterans have waited for answers and assistance.”
For Anthony Hardie, a Gulf War veteran and member of the committee, the report is a “bittersweet victory” and proves “what Gulf War veterans knew all along.”
More information about the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses and its activities can be found at http://www1.va.gov/RAC-GWVI/.