AFTER AN agonizing 17 years, the U.S. government will finally have to admit what veterans and their families have long known–Gulf War Illness is a very real and debilitating condition that has affected one-quarter of soldiers who served in the 1990-91 war.
The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC-GWVI)–a committee of scientists and veterans appointed by Congress in 2002 to investigate the illnesses experienced by veterans of Operation Desert Storm–presented its 450-page report to Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake on November 17.
The new report, which chronicles the ailments suffered by some 175,000 Gulf War veterans–including memory and concentration problems, persistent headaches, unexplained fatigue, widespread pain, respiratory symptoms, digestive problems and skin rashes–contradicts previous reports, which denied that Gulf War Illness even existed.
Among those previous reports, a 2006 National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, claimed that the soldiers were simply suffering from merely suffering from stress disorders typical to any combat zone.
The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses report is available on the Boston University School of Public Health Web site.
As the RAC-GWVI report plainly states:
Gulf War illness fundamentally differs from trauma and stress-related syndromes described after other wars. Studies consistently indicate that Gulf War illness is not the result of combat or other stressors and that Gulf War veterans have lower rates of posttraumatic stress disorder than veterans of other wars.
According to the committee’s scientific director Roberta White, veterans “have been plagued by ill health since their return 17 years ago. Although evidence for this health phenomenon is overwhelming, veterans repeatedly find that their complaints are met with cynicism and a ‘blame the victim’ mentality that attributes their health problems to mental illness or non-physical factors.”
Lea Steele, who served as RAC-GWVI scientific director, told the Washington Post, “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.”
As Anthony Hardie, national secretary for Veterans of Modern Warfare, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “It really closes one of the darker chapters of the legacy of the Gulf War, and that is Gulf War illness.”
Hardie, a 23-year-old sergeant during the war, now suffers from respiratory problems, fatigue and chronic pain. “The report clearly lays out that Gulf War illness was caused by unique exposures; it lays out clearly that Gulf war illness is not a stress-related or trauma condition, that it is not the same as in wars before or since. It is unique,” he said.