anti nerve agent tablets given to gulf war service personnel
Published on Tuesday 21 February 2012 09:08
A GULF War veteran from Sheffield says he is battling the constant side effects of vaccines and pills meant to protect him from chemical and biological warfare 21 years ago.
Tony Merrygold, now aged 42, needs a cocktail of six types of medication every day to control symptoms which include chronic nerve pain and the regular loss of use of his hands.
On bad days he needs help from wife Suzanne with eating, drinking and getting dressed.
Now Tony, a member of the RAF Regiment whose role involved mounting patrols to protect airfields, is among veterans campaigning for proper diagnosis of their conditions from the Ministry of Defence.
The father-of-one, from Arbourthorne, insists he is not interested in compensation and knows it was ‘his choice’ to join up and fight.
He said: “Myself and others are just trying to get proper medical assistance. I still don’t actually know what is wrong with me - it’s too specialist an area for GPs or the NHS.”
Medication given to troops included vaccinations against anthrax and plague - plus a dose of whooping cough deemed to improve the body’s receptiveness to inoculations.
They also had to take NAPS - ‘nerve agent protection set’ tablets - every eight hours for the first few weeks of the war.
Tony, who also worked protecting a nuclear base after the conflict ended, said his main problems started a few years later.
“I started suffering pins and needles, and loss of sensation in my left arm. I just lived with it and it has progressively got worse. I fear I have nerve damage.”
After leaving the RAF Tony was a bus driver, but had to give up work in 2001 because his health problems became too severe.
He believes the side effects of the tablets and vaccines - plus possible exposure to radiation - led to he and Suzanne having problems conceiving. They consider themselves fortunate daughter Annmarie, now 10, was born healthy.
Tony prefers to call his condition Gulf War Illness, not Gulf War Syndrome, because the term affects how he is dealt with by the medical profession and for benefit assessments.
He is one of about 50 veterans nationwide who have formed a support group on Facebook.
They plan to use their experiences to compare symptoms and campaign for diagnosis.
Tony has also written to his MP, Meg Munn, who has promised to raise his case with the Ministry of Defence.
He said: “It’s a constant battle to keep my symptoms under control but I’m not interested in compensation - I signed up for Queen and country and am very proud of what I did. But I do want the MoD to find out what is wrong with me. ”
Meg Munn, Sheffield Heeley Labour MP and former Foreign Office junior minister, said: “I have raised the issues with the Defence Minister and am awaiting a reply.
“We owe a great debt to people who served in the Gulf and it is important we continue to offer help and support.”
Thousands of veterans have complained of ill-health since the 1991 conflict to drive Saddam Hussain’s Iraq from Kuwaiti territory, but Gulf War illness is not officially recognised.
An MoD spokesman said: “The MoD has long accepted some veterans of the 1990/91 Gulf conflict are ill and that some of this ill-health is related to their Gulf service.
“Our priority is to ensure they receive appropriate medical care from the NHS which is responsible for delivering healthcare for veterans.
“Priority treatment is provided for those whose ill-health is connected to their military service. Gulf veterans have not presented any illnesses beyond the capability of the NHS.”
He said financial support is available. The MoD sponsored a research programme into the possible health effects of the combination of vaccines and tablets given to troops to protect them against biological and chemical warfare.
“The overwhelming evidence is they would not have had adverse health effects,” he said.