ANNE USHER/Cox News Service
WASHINGTON – At least one in four U.S. veterans of the 1991 Gulf War suffers from a multi-symptom illness caused by exposure to toxic chemicals during the conflict, a congressionally mandated report being released Monday found.
For much of the past 17 years, government officials have maintained that these veterans — more than 175,000 out of about 697,000 deployed — are merely suffering the effects of wartime stress, even as more have come forward recently with severe ailments.
“The extensive body of scientific research now available consistently indicates that ‘Gulf War illness’ is real, that it is the result of neurotoxic exposures during Gulf War deployment, and that few veterans have recovered or substantially improved with time,” said the report, being released Monday by a panel of scientists and veterans. A copy was obtained by Cox Newspapers.
Gulf War illness is typically characterized by a combination of memory and concentration problems, persistent headaches, unexplained fatigue and widespread pain. It may also include chronic digestive problems, respiratory symptoms and skin rashes.
Two things the military provided to troops in large quantities to protect them — pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide (PB), aimed at thwarting the effects of nerve gas — are the most likely culprits, the panel found.
The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, created by Congress in 2002, presented its 450-page report to Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake on Monday. It said its report is the first to review the hundreds of U.S. and international studies on Gulf War vets since that have been conducted the mid-1990s.
In a 2004 draft report to Congress, the panel said that many Gulf veterans were suffering from neurological damage caused by exposure to toxic chemicals.
The new report goes further by pinpointing known causes and it criticizes past U.S. studies, which have cost more than $340 million, as “overly simplistic and compartmentalized.”
It recommends that the Department of Veterans Affairs order a re-do of past Gulf War and Health reports, calling them “skewed” because they did not include evaluations of toxic exposure studies in lab animals, as Congress had requested.
The panel examined such tests and noted that recent ones — unethical to carry out on humans – have identified biological effects from Gulf War exposures that were previously unknown.
While it called some new VA and DOD programs promising, it noted that overall federal funding for Gulf War research has dropped sharply in recent years. Those studies that have been funded, it said, “have little or no relevance to the health of Gulf War veterans, and for research on stress and psychiatric illness.”
“Veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War had the distinction of serving their country in a military operation that was a tremendous success, achieved in short order. But many had the misfortune of developing lasting health consequences that were poorly understood and, for too long, denied or trivialized,” the committee’s report says.
The report also faults the Pentagon, saying it clearly recognized scientific evidence substantiating Gulf War illness in 2001 but did not acknowledge it publicly.
It said that Acting Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Gulf War illnesses Lt. Gen. Dale Vesser remarked that year that although Saddam Hussein didn’t use nuclear, biological, or chemical agents against coalition forces during the war — an assertion still debated — “It never dawned on us ././. that we may have done it to ourselves.”
For more about the Committee and its activities, click here.