Another report confirms the existence of Gulf War Syndrome; America owes the veterans suffering from it adequate care and treatment for their illnesses
THE ISSUE: Another report confirms the existence of Gulf War Syndrome.
November 21, 2008 – Birmingham News staff writer Dave Parks didn’t just report about Gulf War Syndrome. He owned that issue. A decade and a half ago, Parks listened to Alabama veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict who believed their illnesses were caused by toxic exposures during their time in Iraq: chemical warfare agents, pesticides and smoke from oil well fires, along with shots, pills and vaccines administered by the military. Parks talked to researchers who believed the veterans and conducted studies validating the veterans’ claims. And Parks wrote about a Department of Defense that, to put it politely, was indifferent to the plight of the veterans. In fact, the Pentagon for years denied the existence of veterans’ problems, and then tried to blame their maladies on stress.
This week, a report to Congress confirmed what many Gulf War veterans already knew: Gulf War Syndrome is real, and still afflicts nearly one-fourth of the 700,000 U.S. troops who served. The neurological symptoms include memory loss, problems concentrating, rashes and widespread pain. Gulf War veterans also have higher rates of brain cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, the report noted.
“The extensive body of scientific research now available consistently indicates that Gulf War illness is real, that it is a result of neurotoxic exposures during Gulf War deployment, and that few veterans have recovered or substantially improved with time,” said the 450-page report, drafted by a congressionally mandated scientific panel and given to Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake.
The report, unlike many earlier studies, concluded two chemical exposures were direct causes of the disorder. Gulf War troops received pyridostigmine bromide to protect against nerve gas, and widely used pesticides were sprayed in living and dining areas and on tents and uniforms to protect against sand flies and other pests.
This isn’t the first time medical experts have concluded there is, in fact, such a thing as Gulf War Syndrome. In 1997, for example, a team of top medical researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center tied chemical exposures during the war to three varieties of the syndrome. Yet many other reports, including several by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, blamed stress and other unknown causes for the soldiers’ symptoms.
By 2002, it was clear to some members of Congress that veterans were not receiving adequate care, leading to the creation of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, a 15-member committee of scientists and veterans, which six years later, released Monday’s report.
“The tragedy here is that there are currently no treatments,” said James H. Binns, a former principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense and the panel’s chairman. “The importance … lies in what is done with it (the report) in the future. It’s a blueprint for the new administration.”
It is a blueprint the new administration must follow. Through the 17 years since U.S. and allied soldiers put their lives on the line in Iraq’s first Gulf War, thousands of them have struggled to have their problems recognized by the government.
America owes those veterans adequate care and treatment for their illnesses. After the release of the latest report confirming Gulf War Syndrome, they deserve so much more than just another chance to say “I told you so.”