The full title of this report is “Scientific Progress Understanding Gulf War Illnesses: Report and Recommendations“.
Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses
This is an extensive report running 152 pdf pages. The Executive Summary has these unsettling words:
In the years since the war, thousands of Gulf War veterans have been evaluated and treated by government and private physicians. But the federal research effort has not succeeded in identifying treatments that substantially improve the health of ill veterans.
Further, there are no programs in place to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments currently being used or to identify and develop treatments that may hold promise for these conditions.
(…) Many of the veterans who served in the Gulf War were exposed to a variety of potentially toxic substances during their deployment. Among these were several neurotoxins-chemical nerve agents, pills taken to protect veterans from the deadly effects of nerve agents, and multiple types of pesticides-that belong to a single class of compounds that adversely affect the nervous system.
Finding 1 A substantial proportion of Gulf War veterans are ill with multisymptom conditions not explained by wartime stress or psychiatric illness. (…)
Finding 2 Treatments that improve the health of veterans with Gulf War illnesses are urgently needed. (…)
Finding 3 A growing body of research indicates that an important component of Gulf War veterans’ illnesses is neurological in character. (…)
Finding 4 Evidence supports a probable link between exposure to neurotoxins and the development of Gulf War veterans’ illnesses. (…)
Finding 5 Other wartime exposures may also have contributed to Gulf War veterans’ illnesses. (…)
Finding 6 The health of Gulf veterans must be carefully monitored to determine if Gulf War service is associated with excess rates of specific diseases, disease-specific deaths, or overall mortality.(…)
Finding 7 Important questions concerning the health of children and other family members of Gulf War veterans remain unanswered. (…)
Finding 8 Progress in understanding Gulf War veterans’ illnesses has been hindered by lack of coordination and availability of data resources maintained by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. (…)
Finding 9 Research on Gulf War veterans’ illnesses has important implications for current and future military deployments and for homeland security. (…)
Finding 10 Further progress in understanding and treating Gulf War veterans’ illnesses requires federal research programs that are properly focused, well-managed, and adequately funded. (…)
Each of these findings are supported in detail with charts, data and supporting research documents that are organized by topic and by suspected causes.
Here are just a few of the tables and figures:
You can see from this figure that those in the Gulf war report 2 to 7 times as many symptoms as veterans not in the theatre.
Many of the symptoms are common among veterans that did not serve in the Gulf War as shown in the left side of this figure. However, those veterans that were deployed in the Gulf are about 10 times as likely to report 3 to 6 types of symptoms from Table 1 than those not deployed.
The excess illness column on the far right was used in the study to show that the excess illness was consistent among particular units of deployed veterans vs non-deployed veterans from the same area of the country. The ratio of deployed ill veterans was 2 to 4 times as high as those not deployed and even though they came from the same area as those that went to the Gulf . For example those from Kansas that were deployed in the Gulf had 2.5 to 4 times as many multiple symptoms than those from Kansas that were not deployed.
This table is very alarming to me. It shows that the deployed Gulf War veterans are developing Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) at a rate nearly 4 times higher than those veterans not deployed as they age to 55 and older. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, with less than 10 percent of patients surviving more than five years after initial diagnosis.
Possible effects of pesticides, PB (Pyridostigmine bromide pills used to pre-treat nerve gas exposure), and other AChEis (acetylcholinesterase inhibitors) chemicals used during the Gulf War.
Evidence in the literature is suggestive, but not conclusive, AChE inhibitors such as organophosphates and carbamates, could be among the potential contributing agents to some of the undiagnosed illnesses seen in Persian Gulf War veterans. -From: A Review of the Scientific Literature As It Pertains to Gulf War Illnesses–Volume 8: Pesticides48
This topic was extensively discussed and seems to be of significant concern to those conducting the study. AChEis compounds are sometimes used for beneficial medications for Alzheimer’s Disease, but also to make pesticides and saran nerve gas.
(…) these studies have consistently identified AChEis to be significantly associated with higher rates of symptoms and illnesses in Gulf War veterans. The uniformity of these results contrasts with a lack of consistent findings in multivariable analyses for such wartime experiences as participation in combat, exposure to oil fire smoke, and exposure to depleted uranium. Limitations in epidemiologic studies that rely on selfreported exposures always require a cautious interpretation of findings.
Taken as a whole, however, this accumulated body of research provides compelling evidence of a probable link between neurotoxic exposures in the Gulf War and the development of Gulf War veterans’ illnesses.
Pregnancies, micsarrages, birth defects:
In 2001, a report from VA’s large National Survey of Gulf War-era Veterans and their Families indicated that Gulf War veterans reported a significantly greater number of post-war pregnancies that ended in miscarriages or children born with birth defects than nondeployed era veterans.
This table is very alarming to me. It shows that the rate of birth defects for first live births for deployed veterans is two to 3 times as high as for those not deployed. This applies to children of both male and female veterans. Something is tragically wrong with this picture.
The above is only a brief overview of this subject. Depleted Uranium is also a part of this study, but is largely discounted, but not thrown out. If you are interested in the details, the report is remarkably readable and available at the link above or can be viewed or downloaded here. This report is more than 3 years old. It will be interesting to see how many of its recommendations have been followed.
What is so heartbreaking is that the rate of ALS among deployed Gulf War Veterans is higher at all age levels than Gulf War veterans not deployed, 3.5 times as high at ages above 55, birth defect rates are double, Gulf War Veterans are 3 to 4 times as likely to be ill with these symptoms. Yet the funding is dismal, only about $31 million average a year through 2004.
That is about $32.00 per deployed Gulf War veteran a year research funding. Hmm, 88 cents a day per veteran – about the cost of a single plain doughnut.
Equivalent Funding for Gulf War Illnesses
(photo courtesy of roboppy who posted as creative commons)
(all the others are copied from the cited report)
The veterans deserve significantly more research, deserve the best possible treatment and deserve adequate compensation to offset their illnesses. They are all heroes to me.