Sunday, October 11, 2009

ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS: Don't Stop--VA needs to press research on Gulf War illness

Written by the Editors of the Anchorage Daily News 

(Anchorage, Alaska - October 10, 2009) - Veterans of the 1990-91 war in Iraq continue to struggle with the government for proper attention to the mysterious illnesses known as "Gulf War syndrome." Years of research into those illnesses has linked many of them to the use of pesticides and a nerve-gas antidote used by U.S. forces during that war. That research, while not absolutely conclusive, gives the lie to what the government had been telling vets who suffer from brain damage, gastrointestinal diseases, fatigue, memory loss, chronic diarrhea, joint pain and persistent headaches.

Post-traumatic stress, the feds said. A psychiatric condition.

No way, says the lead researcher into Gulf War illness at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

"Now we know it's a real disease caused by chemical exposure," epidemiologist Robert Haley told The Dallas Morning News.

However, the Veterans Administration has canceled the Texas medical center's $75 million contract to study the disease and figure out effective treatment. The department said that Haley's research has violated many research protocols; critics have questioned his methodology.

We can't judge Dr. Haley's contract performance. But his work, and other confirming research, makes clear that this work needs to continue. If not with Dr. Haley's group, then with someone else.

Haley's conclusion, that Gulf War illness is "a real disease" and not a manifestation of stress, received powerful confirmation in 2008. That's when a congressionally sanctioned group of scientists, medical experts and military vets found Gulf War illness was fundamentally different from stress-related syndromes.

The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses pulled together work of scientific and government investigations and found the evidence "leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a real condition."

The Veterans Administration continues to resist that conclusion.

At stake is what could be billions of dollars in veterans' disability benefits.

Much more important, what's at stake is the health of up to one in four Gulf War vets who may be suffering from chemical exposures inflicted by their own forces with the best of intentions.

The VA has a troubling track record in these matters. It took decades for the government to acknowledge the terrible effects of Agent Orange and other toxic defoliants used in Vietnam.

And the official response to the Gulf War illness was first to blame it on stress. Then there was foot-dragging.

No more delays -- and let's not lose whatever knowledge Dr. Haley and his colleagues have gained.

The nation owes Gulf War vets its best effort to zero in on causes and cures. Anything less is betrayal.

BOTTOM LINE: Evidence is strong that Gulf War illness is real. Let's stand by our vets and find out how to treat it.

Editor's Note:  the following editorial, also by the Anchorage Daily News, rings as true now as it did nearly a year ago when it was first published.

Gulf War illness: Government finally admits vets suffer from a real condition

Written by the Editors of the Anchorage Daily News

(Anchorage, Alaska - November 18, 2008) - The official U.S. government response to claims of Gulf War illness has run from skepticism to outright denial.

This week's report by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illness should put an end to doubt. Contrary to government claims, debilitating symptoms are not likely from battlefield stress and other psychological factors. The council, made up of scientists and veterans and working on marching orders from Congress, lays the blame on exposure to pesticides and the PB (pyridostigmine bromide) pills taken to thwart the effects of nerve gas.

With one in four of the 697,000 Gulf War vets reporting some level of the same symptoms, the lights should have gone on a long time ago in the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

One in four -- and yet these 172,000 veterans have had to deal with a government that simply didn't believe them.

Enough. The council concludes that Gulf War illness is real. That's bitter confirmation to the veterans who have suffered from what the report calls a "complex of multiple concurrent symptoms" that "typically includes persistent memory and concentration problems, chronic headaches, widespread pain, gastrointestinal problems, and other chronic abnormalities."

So now veterans have rigorous support for what they have contended all along -- it's not just in our heads, we're not making it up. We're sick.

The report should help clear the way for an all-out effort to find treatment and a cure. If the government drags its feet now, it'll be doing a grim impression of the tobacco industry in the face of the Surgeon General's reports.

The council, noting that research funds for Gulf War illness have declined in recent years, recommends a boost of $60 million in research toward effective treatment and cure. That's a good start.

Clearly, Gulf War illness was inflicted on our troops unintentionally. The military was trying to protect them from weapons that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was known to possess and willing to use.

Just as clearly, the United States owes Gulf War veterans whatever treatment of that illness is available now, along with serious research into finding a cure, or better treatment of the various symptoms.

Thousands of our Gulf War vets are sick. Let's help them.

BOTTOM LINE: Gulf War illness is real, and few vets who suffer the disease are getting better. It's past time for serious work on a cure. 


Is Change Coming?  

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

No comments: