Vets touched by Gulf War illness fret over research funds
WASHINGTON – A congressional move to shift control of the flow of money to research a mysterious Gulf War illness has alarmed veterans of that conflict who fear the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have little interest in uncovering the true causes of their ailments.
"In its short history, the program has funded more trials of promising treatments than all other government programs combined in the 20 years since these troops came home sick," said Jim Binns, chairman of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses. "It is by far the best hope to improve their health and to prevent similar illnesses in current and future conflicts."
In the past, Binns said, VA research focused on the mental health issues of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War, while the Defense Department stopped funding research on Gulf War illness several years ago. Now, the Defense Department's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) exists only because Congress designates money to the Defense Department budget each year to study Gulf War illness.
But on Sept. 15, the Senate voted to exclude the program from next year's Defense Appropriations Act, while the House, after a last-ditch amendment from Rep.Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, voted to fund it with $10 million.
So far, CDMRP funding has included a study that showed coenzyme Q10 appeared to relieve some Gulf veterans' symptoms. Another recent study funded by the program connected where veterans served with what environmental exposures might have caused their symptoms.
"It is critical that this program be funded in the final Defense appropriations bill in order to continue the research that has already seen significant gains," Kucinich told USA TODAY.
On the Senate side, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also pushed for funding, telling USA TODAY, "We are still looking for what may have caused so many servicemembers to become ill while trying to identify the most effective treatment to address the symptoms."
Steve Robertson, Sanders' senior legislative assistant, said Congress is under intense pressure to cut the budget. "I think everyone's interested in doing what's best for the veterans," he said.
About one-fourth of the 700,000 veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War developed symptoms that include chronic headaches, widespread pain, memory and concentration problems, persistent fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, skin abnormalities and mood disturbances.
"(This research has) had the only success we've seen so far for Gulf War veterans," said Anthony Hardie, a Gulf war veteran who has been a consumer reviewer for the program since 2006.