Toxic Chemicals Blamed for Gulf War Illness

Steele added that the U.S. military has also cut back on its use of pesticides since the 1991 war.

There are other factors that, while not likely causes of Gulf War illness, can't be ruled out, Steele said. These include exposure to nerve agents, exposure to smoke from oil well fires, and vaccines given to the troops. The panel ruled out depleted uranium and anthrax vaccine as causes.

The panel also found government research and funding into Gulf War illness wanting. "There has not been sufficient attention given to Gulf War illness. It's a real problem," Steele said.

"In recent years, both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have reported a lot of studies that weren't Gulf War illness as Gulf War research," Steele added. "Some of the money was misused."

The panel noted that overall federal funding for Gulf War research has declined substantially in recent years; the group urged lawmakers to devote $60 million annually to such programs.

When veterans with Gulf War illness go to Veterans Administration hospitals for treatment, their problems often aren't taken seriously, Steele said. "VA docs often know nothing about it and aren't able to help them. Sometimes they treat them as if they are head cases or malingering," she said.

James Binns is chairman of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses.

"We have no treatments that work," said Binns, a Vietnam veteran and former Pentagon official. "I would like to see the new administration take this more seriously. When you look at all the studies, it's as clear as the nose on your face that this [Gulf War illness] is real."

It took 20 years to admit that Agent Orange, a defoliant used in the Vietnam war, caused illness, Binns said. "It's now coming up to 17 years on Gulf War illness," he said. "Troop exposures [to these chemicals] were a serious but honest mistake. Covering it up rather than trying to help them has been unconscionable."

More information

Learn more about Gulf War illness from the University of Chicago Medical Center.

SOURCES: Lea Steele, Ph.D., associate professor, Kansas State University, Manhattan, and scientific director, Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses; James Binns, chairman, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses

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