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/.