Oct. 23, 1996: 'Gulf War Syndrome'

Ted Koppel reports on American soldiers who became sick after returning home.
8:30 | 10/22/11

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Transcript for Oct. 23, 1996: 'Gulf War Syndrome'
For most of the half a million American soldiers who fought in the Persian gulf. The war against Iraq ended in 1991. And Iraqi Army surrender. Then the soldiers started coming home. And I found him there and I -- -- environments and and I could feel him physically. Yeah there was a great sense of relief -- he's home safe everything's going to be fine. But as Kelli cook discovered everything was not fine. Her husband dale and thousands of other soldiers healthy when they left were coming home. Sick and had problems with my students. Strain between. Fans -- doings and several other conditions. We just. Parent. I don't know -- -- -- And then the family got sick as well wife Kelly and sons Nathan and Zachary and. If the thing lot of water blisters might be -- -- When He was a little over a year old He went through about -- three -- -- projectiles vomiting and diarrhea. Before helicopter pilot Barry Kaplan returned from the war He sent most of his gear ahead of him. Barry shift boxes and duffel bags home. And because we had limited storage space I went ahead and store them and my youngest daughter's room. Within weeks the whole family was ill and -- two year old daughter who slept where the gear was stored was the worst. I believe that. Whatever happened. Or whatever the chain of events was. That somehow now on line. Equipment their return to the house that something. Caused my family to -- direct casualties of the gulf war. Nancy Kaplan remember smelling something on -- gear. Just like Kim Martin could smell something on her husband Brian and the day He came home. He had gotten off the plane and I Menem. Coming off and He stunk. For -- He -- really really bad it was in the dirty smoke. It's hard to explain -- -- difference now that I never smoked before. I went and gave them a kiss on the slips than it tastes like. -- In 1983. I was officially diagnosed Brian once a paratrooper now can barely walk He has rashes chronic fatigue chronic diarrhea that I have. -- below brain damage was scarring due to chemical exposure. I have inflammatory and irritable bowel disease was -- of the colon -- stomach due to chemical exposure I have multiple chemical sensitivity. In march of 1991. After the Iraqi surrender Brian Martin and dale cook where economists Zia. A vast Iraqi ammunition depot that US troops were charged with blowing up. No one realized there were chemical weapons in the piles of rockets and shells. When the bunkers first one. Whose biggest -- From three miles away they watched and cheered as ammunition bunkers exploded on the horizon. A cloud of debris rising above. And I was just. Complements after that -- more debris was floating in there. That the chemical arms -- going. Some soldiers put on protective suits and gas masks others did not. Officially all detentions -- poison gas that day were considered false alarms. For the next five years the Defense Department said it had no evidence that American troops have been exposed to poison gas not during the war not after the war. Then in June the Pentagon announced their may have then chemical weapons and -- CS after all. There was new evidence from the United Nations and it turned out from the military's own five year old intelligence files. At first officials estimated 150. Soldiers may have been exposed then the number rose to a thousand then 5000. In September of the Pentagon revealed a second storage area known as the -- may have had even more chemical weapons and it when US engineers blew it up. The CIA is still trying to assess how many US troops may have been under that cloud of debris. I was asked about a range in the range was 15201000. I said that there would be. In the end. Larger numbers of people exposed and what we had said. But even the new evidence that as many as 100000. American soldiers may have been exposed to small amounts of poison gas does not explain why other soldiers hundreds of miles away also became ill. The Pentagon has long argued that one possible explanation for many of the mysterious symptoms is the extreme stress of being in war. It is Psycho somatic. But that does not explain the families getting sick. If they don't know what it is I can live but then I can live with that. But don't tell us it's all in her mind -- don't tell us there's not anything wrong with us. Some independent researchers believe one likely cause for so much illness among troops. Might be the -- they were required to take to protect them from the effects of poison gas. It's called peer to stick mind -- mind or peavy. My health problems started the eve of the air war when we started taking the for the statement -- -- About. In the my eighth pill. I started getting really else. Other possible causes could be heavy use of pesticides to protect soldiers from such deadly insects as scorpions. More than noxious fumes from oil wells the Iraqis set on fire when they pulled out of Kuwait. Research scientist Claudia Miller at the University of Texas says she thinks that many may be suffering from the combined effects of several deadly chemicals not just want. A toxic cocktail that the Pentagon has only recently begun to consider. Certainly there's an opportunity here for synergistic effects -- combined effects additive effects being greater than just the simple some of -- of the two chemicals. While the research continues those who are sick say they resent the way they have been treated by the Pentagon and the veterans administration. I have no confidence from them anymore I and I think that the -- consensus says among the American people is that they are totally losing faith. I feel that. It's it's -- deliberate. Attempt to keep the veterans and their families in the dark. The Pentagon knows it has a credibility problem I know their charges we have not listen in the past we -- trying to listen now. But critics in congress don't buy it. Senator Rockefeller a Democrat in hearings last month was so angry He called for the resignation of doctor Stephen Joseph the Pentagon's point man for gulf war illness. At a time to face the music. Way past time. It's time for a change at DOD. Belatedly Defense Secretary Perry has launched half a dozen new initiatives and studies. But for those who are sick and the Defense Department still does not know how many there are new studies and new reassurances. Are not enough. -- -- the most physically and fit and healthy soldiers ever deployed. In history. We return. Great number of us returned. Both actively sick and just really medical basket cases. I don't think my gulf war soldier came home. -- and then went to war was helping. Here's a lot more fun. And the man who came back it's like. The Defense Department says 90000. Soldiers and veterans have signed up with the various gulf war illness registries. Veterans claim that thousands of those are seriously ill. And that the military has been less than energetic less than honest about coming up without answers as to why. The Pentagon says despite the frustrations of those who are sick. Five years after the war there are still no answers only theories. John McWethy for Nightline at the Pentagon.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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