Mystery Illness Still Plagues 210,000 Gulf War Veterans

Oklahoman (Oklahoma)

A scientific panel chartered by Congress released a report in November acknowledging the Gulf War Syndrome for the first time in 17 years. Gulf War. 

December 21, 2008, Lawton, Oklahoma — Recollections are increasingly harder for Gulf War veteran Gary Secor to corral. His memory loss trips him often and is matched with diminishing muscles, nagging joint aches, chronic fatigue and slurred speech.

But one image is entrenched in his mind as clearly as it was more than 17 years ago when he served with the U.S. Army’s 299th Combat Engineers in southern Iraq. The image is from the day he believes he and his comrades were exposed to nuclear, biological, and chemical nerve agents.

On March 10, 1991, Secor and other demolition experts were ordered to blow up Iraq’s massive ordnance stash at Khamisiyah.  Secor, now 55, vividly remembers watching the plumes of smoke rise from the demolition site less than a mile away.

“I knew right away something was wrong,” said Secor, blinking his eyes as he slowly forced words from his mouth. “There were enough weapons in that pit that it should have rocked us. Instead, it was like a fart. Then I saw the smoke. It should have been black, black; but it was a grayish-white. I knew right then we had just sent chemicals into the open air.

“I thought, ‘What have we done?’”

The answer is now clear to Secor. He has Gulf War syndrome — an illness reported by 1990-91 Persian Gulf War vets plagued with immune system disorders, but not recognized by the U.S. government until now. A congressionally mandated medical panel concluded in a 450-page report released Nov. 17 that the “Gulf War syndrome” is indeed real.

More than 25 percent of the 700,000 U.S. troops who served in the 1990-91 conflict were exposed to toxic chemicals.

“I’m relieved they have finally recognized this as a problem,” Secor said. “But I really have my doubts they will do anything about this … . Look, the government has never wanted to admit there was a problem. Why? Too much money.”

Bouncing from one Veterans Affairs doctor to the next for 17 years, Secor has spent thousands of dollars and had countless tests.

“One VA doctor basically called me a liar,” Secor said. “He essentially said I was exaggerating my ailments.” Secor paused for a moment, adding, “Eight people have committed suicide from my battalion.”

Dr. Larry Goss of Walters empathizes with Gulf War veterans. He recognized the Gulf War syndrome long ago, and has treated dozens of veterans for various ailments.

Secor claims Goss saved his life with his approach. Goss calls the Gulf War syndrome “complex” and “layered,” and subscribes to the theory that thousands of American troops were also used as experimental guinea pigs during the war through classified immunizations.

Goss even claims he and his wife were stricken by an “infectious component” of the illness while treating Gulf War vets at Ardmore and Clinton clinics. He published his findings in a 1998 article that appeared in the International Journal of Medicine.

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