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Federal Report: Gulf War Illness Is Real

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 10:17 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA and Prescription Drugs, Gulf War Syndrome, Neurotoxic Exposure, Gulf War Illness, Pyridostigmine Bromide

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IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / Gulf War Soldier / author: Johncairns

Gulf War syndrome, dismissed by many as a psychosomatic disorder, is a very real illness that still afflicts at least 25 percent of the 700,000 U.S. veterans who took part in the 1991 Gulf War.

Gulf War Illness is best described as a group of symptoms, including central nervous system symptoms, which have occurred in veterans of the first Gulf War. "Gulf War Syndrome," as the illnesses are commonly known, is a non-scientific label that has frequently been used to describe those veterans with unexplained illnesses often characterized by fatigue, joint pain, skin rash, memory loss and/or diarrhea.

Many experts agree that this group of veterans is probably not suffering from a single, common ailment, but rather from a variety of illnesses with overlapping symptoms.

A new report by a federal panel of scientific experts has concluded that exposure to two chemicals are likely direct causes of Gulf War Illness: pyridostigmine bromide, a drug given to troops to protect against nerve gas, and pesticides used [and overused] to protect against different types of pests including sand flies.

“Extensive scientific research has consistently shown that Gulf War illness is a real and true result of neurotoxic exposures during the Gulf War and few veterans have recovered or substantially improved over time,” according to an in depth report titled, "Gulf War Illness and the Health of Gulf War Veterans," presented to the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake.

Currently, no effective treatments have been devised for the disorder.

The report boosts hopes of hundreds of thousands of U.S. veterans who have fought over the last seventeen years to have their varying neurological symptoms recognized by the government.

“Vets have been turned away from [Veterans Affairs] countless times with the explanation that this illness is something that simply does not exist,” said John Schwertfager, vice president of the advocacy group, the National Gulf War Resource Center.

The latest report, conducted by the congressionally mandated Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, contracted by Congress, because several members felt veterans were not receiving acceptable medical care. The committee, assembled in 2002 is made up of 15-members, consisting of scientists and veterans.

Many previous reports released by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, have blamed stress and unknown causes for the soldiers’ various symptoms.

"Gulf War illness isn't a psychosomatic disorder," said Ken Robinson, the senior intelligence officer for the Department of Defense investigation into Gulf War illness in 1996-97.

"This is a real illness that has had devastating effects on thousands of families. Now is the time to restore funding cuts that have been made in the Veterans Administration. Our mission has to be to ensure that these veterans get help and become whole again." #


5 Comments

Anonymous User
Posted by Debra Perry
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 3:26 PM EST

Thank goodness! My cousin is a Gulf War veteran and I know personally how much he has suffered since returning home with this illness. He has experienced most of the symptoms mentioned and now struggles daily with joint issues and pain. These soldiers deserve better!

Anonymous User
Posted by Harold Blumer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 5:16 PM EST

It's about time! Dr. Theron Randolph a well known allergy specialist doing clinical research on environmental allergies for over 50 years, published a number of books in which he identified most of the same symptoms of these vets as resulting from pesticide exposures. Dr Randolph's pioneering efforts, first called clinical ecology and then Environmental Medicine, refer to these symptoms as resulting from hydrocarbon poisoning.. Thousands of us in this country suffer from what is called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, MCS, which often is caused by over exposure to toxic hydrocarbons.. The disabilities these boys came home with are similar and for the most part much more severe, but of the same cause. It is amazing how our medical profession can ignor its own research. Is it a coverup by government, by the med profession for fear of being sued by chemical industry giants, or willful ignorance....

Anonymous User
Posted by Jim
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 9:00 PM EST

Finally, perhaps something can be done for these veterans and to protect the health of those who have and are serving bravely the policies pursued by our government.

Anonymous User
Posted by Thomas Tiedt
Wednesday, November 19, 2008 12:11 PM EST

Back in the 1990s, I was the only mainstream scientist speaking out on behalf of Gulf War veterans. Only after my successful collaboration with Senator Rockefeller in 1994, appearance on 60 MINUTES in 1996, appearance in a BBC documentary in 1998 filmed in Bradenton about my lonely and stressful mission, and testimony before Congress in 1997 did the matter become a sufficient business for scientists to seek new rounds of research funding for what was well known and published years before the Gulf War began – that nerve agents, pesticides and bogus anti-nerve gas treatments (e.g., pyridostigmine), all of which work via a common mechanism (inhibition of the nerve-ending enzyme acetylcholinesterase), would generate substantial morbidity and mortality in healthy young soldiers under stress. Many Gulf War veterans’ advocacy groups expressed their fear that my life was in jeopardy for my speaking out on their behalf. It was the most stressful 6 years of my life. However, I was compelled by duty to speak out. I wish I could have done more.

My 1978 publications in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics were followed up by my University of Maryland School of Medicine research associates later during their employment at DOD’s chemical warfare research facility in Aberdeen, Maryland, further establishing the predictable pathophysiology of human exposure to such toxic agents in healthy humans. My 1997 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted the egregious violation of the Nuremburg Code by DOD and FDA in their illicit experiment on Gulf War troops with pyridostigmine, the supposed-but-futile nerve agent protective agent proffered by DOD and FDA in contradiction to all scientific evidence.

My work with the House and Senate were critical in producing Congressional resolve to do what DOD and DVA would not do without prodding and castigating media notoriety – to investigate further the illnesses of so many Gulf War veterans. The latest report to Congress, “Gulf War Illness and the Health of Gulf War Veterans” found that that Gulf War illnesses are real and they afflict about a quarter of the 700,000 troops who served. Gulf War veterans suffer needless-but-significantly increased risk to fatigue, memory loss, cancer and Lou Gehrig’s Disease (the central nervous system disease also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).

Notably, the Department of Defense’s response to my April 1997 testimony before Congress was to do whatever it could at taxpayer’s expense to refute my presentation of Gulf War illness epidemiology and causes that had been previously presented to the Presidential advisory panel reviewing but denying Gulf War illnesses. Ironically, DOD’s effort backfired when a couple years later the Rand Corporation largely agreed with my analysis and thanked me in its report to DOD for my contributions.

As was clear from DOD statements to 60 MINUTES in 1996 as part of 60 MINUTES’ work in preparation for its broadcast of my interview, Gulf War illnesses were essentially the result of a public relations debacle.

DOD’s illicit experimentation on our troops dating back to at least the Civil War and reaching a zenith with the disastrous experiment with pyridostigmine in the Gulf War (sometimes at gunpoint and the threat of court martial) is an ongoing abomination. A report about such atrocities was published by Senator Rockefeller in December 1994.

I will always remember my sobering and shocking-but-patriotic experience of the day of my Congressional testimony April 24, 1997. So nervous, I was the first to arrive in the hearing room and sat in the end chair in the front row on the left side of the room. As the room populated, the gallery to my immediate right and behind me filled with high government and military officials. The other side of the room filled to overflow with veterans and their families and the media. CIA’s representative passed a note to Dr. Bernard Rostker, DOD’s representative, during his testimony claiming among other false statements that DOD had no research initiatives into chemical warfare agents and their antidotes, blatantly contradicting dozens of studies published in the peer-reviewed medical literature. The note read, “Dr. Tiedt is sitting behind you.” At the break, this same CIA representative argued with Dr. Rostker in the hallway, pointing out that DOD’s passing blame to the CIA was “making the CIA look bad.” During this same break, only moments before my testimony would be delivered and about which Representative Bernard Sanders told Dr. Rostker “it’s going to be pretty frightening stuff,” a man timidly approached me asking to shake my hand, mentioning that his wife will be thrilled to learn that he met me to thank me for my work. I virtually melted with humility. This trembling man was the father of U.S. Air Force Major Michael Donnelly, who was suffering seriously with Lou Gehrig’s Disease from his Gulf War service and who had prefaced his testimony earlier that day with a common plea of Gulf War veterans during those dismissive times, “I am not the enemy.” Major Donnely’s account of his mistreatment in the DVA system made everyone cry except for the government officials denying his story. Briefly, my years of stress and disgust were abated during our warm handshake and short conversation. Moments later, I stood below especially large paintings of our founding fathers, resolute and raising my right hand to take an oath before the Congressional committee and, I felt, to the history of the United States of America, to tell the truth. In contrast to the many tens of millions of dollars of public funds spent to deny and investigate Gulf War illnesses, I received nothing to defray the tens of thousands of dollars I charged to my credit cards while leaving gainful employment for nearly 6 years to propel media coverage and Congressional attention. While my struggle was worth it, the morbidity and mortality of Gulf War veterans denied by DOD and DVA for so long is not.

The clear lesson from this tragedy: we must do everything we can to check the abuse of our trust by government and to better express our gratitude to our young men and women who fight for us in war.


Thomas N. Tiedt, Ph.D.
Sarasota, FL.

Anonymous User
Posted by Ernest
Tuesday, December 02, 2008 10:40 PM EST

Screw funds for more research. When are the sick Vets going to get compensation for their lives being destroyed for going on 17 yrs now without any compensation. The Government can throw money to Allies, bail out companies that run themselves into debt, pay out comp to 9-11 victims so they won't sue the airlines but the Vets that stood up and went over at the government's orders get nothing. And don't call disability payments compensation. It's a contractual obligation/requirement per the military contract you sign going in, just like firefighters and police officers have in their contracts if they are hurt on the job. I think the Vets deserve the same compensation criteria that the 9-11 people got. If the research hasn't helped in 17 yrs, WTF do they think they're going to find now. The sick Vets deserve compensation equal to their suffering now and for the many years they were made to suffer because the government/DoD denied that GWS exsisted.

Comments for this article are closed.

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