By The Sentinel, November 13, 2004
As the current war in Iraq captures headlines once again, Americans continue to struggle with issues left over from the previous Gulf War. This week, a new report released by the secretary of veterans affairs contradicts past findings about Gulf War syndrome, the name given to a wide variety of chronic health conditions suffered by veterans of that conflict. Previous research attributed a bewildering array of disorders suffered by soldiers to the stress of fighting in a war zone.
The new study gives more credence to veterans' complaints that they must have been exposed to dangerous substances while serving in Iraq. It calls for $60 million in spending over the next four years to research the question further and find treatments for the various disorders suffered by our troops. Gulf War syndrome was widely publicized for a time in the mid-1990s as veterans suffering from unexplained maladies began to go public with their complaints. News investigations highlighted the soldiers' stories of personal loss, but finding explanations proved elusive.
The military initially resisted the toxic exposure theory, preferring the war zone stress explanation, while civilian experts had little in the way of hard evidence to support the veterans' claims. Now, the Pentagon admits that as many as 100,000 soldiers could have been exposed to nerve gas or pesticides during fighting in the first Gulf War. And anti-nerve gas drugs also may have had side effects consistent with the symptoms experienced by soldiers. Among the disorders reported as part of Gulf War syndrome are chronic fatigue, loss of muscle control, migranes, dizziness, memory problems, loss of balance and diarrhea.
The report released this week gave the results of more recent research showing these conditions are related to neurological damage. Considering that some experts had already put forth this theory years ago, it seems odd that it took so long for the government to come around to it. But the wheels of research turn slowly, especially when there are competing theories about the situation. Now that this study is available, the next step is to move forward so affected veterans can get the help they deserve.