Monday, November 2, 2009

New Research Findings Link Gulf War Veterans' Neuropsychological Dysfunction with Gulf War Exposures

Written by Anthony Hardie, 91outcomes

(Washington, DC - November 2, 2009) - In a presentation today before the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses (RAC), Dr. Roberta White, the committee's scientific director, presented scientific research linking Gulf War hazardous exposures and health outcomes in individuals exposed to neurotoxicants.

Neurotoxicants, a class of chemicals that includes pesticides and chemical warfare agents, were common hazardous exposures during the 1991 Gulf War linked to Gulf War veterans' illnesses and described in depth in a 2008 U.S. Government report that found that Gulf War Illness is a real neurological condition affecting between one-fourth and one-third of the 697,000 U.S. veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.

Dr. White, a neuropsychologist and chair of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health, presented scientific research that linked the Gulf War exposures to neuropsychological dysfunction.

According to Dr. White's research, individuals exposed to neurotoxicants such as the pesticides and low-level chemical warfare agent exposures of those serving in the 1991 Gulf War, "can have abnormal or within normal range [of neuropsychological testing] results but still have critical functional issues in daily life, especially with people who were high functioning [before their Gulf War exposures].

Dr. White noted that that this meant that those exposed had neuropsychological dysfunction, rather than the neuropsychological deficit that most current neuropsychological testing is designed to measure.

The research studies found that the cluster of neuropsychological dysfunction symptoms among Gulf War veterans included:

  • Mood changes/fatigue
  • Motor dysfunction
  • Visual-constructional deficits
  • Visual memory/learning retrieval issues
  • Attention/executive working memory issues
It was noted that language function was generally intact.

"Some also have Parkinsonian symptoms," added Dr. White.  However, they do not respond to dopaminergic replacement, a standard Parkinson's disease treatment, "so this is not [typical] Parkinson's Disease."

One of the veterans in attendance, former U.S. Air Force Major and flight nurse Denise Nichols of Denver, Col., noted that most Gulf War veterans were high functioning before their exposures. 

Anthony Hardie, an ill Gulf War veteran member of the RAC from Madison, Wis. agreed, commenting that, "most Gulf War troops were at least high school graduates, as compared to today's military, where in 2008, only about four in five new enlistees in the U.S. Army were high school graduates."

Hardie also recommended that VA begin using its new Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) compensation criteria for Gulf War veterans with this neuropsychological dysfunction.

Several ill Gulf War veterans in attendance agreed that the dysfunction identified by Dr. White's research mirrored their own experiences and those of other ill Gulf War veterans they know.

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