Gulf War illness is a real medical condition that has affected at least 175,000 combat veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, according to a report released Monday.
However, federal research into the causes behind the mysterious malady has “not been effective,” and the report by the congressionally mandated panel suggested that politics or financial concerns might have played a role.
“There is also a common perception that federal policymakers have not vigorously pursued key research in this area and that federal agencies have disincentives – whether political or fiscal – for providing definitive answers to Gulf War health questions,” said the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illness.
The report compared the foot-dragging and denials to the treatment of earlier troops who claimed that they had been dangerously exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam and to radiation during World War II. In both cases, the claims turned out to be true.
“Government has been very slow to accept what the research shows,” said James Binns, the committee's chairman and a former top Defense Department official.
Committee members laid the blame for Gulf War illness primarily on two causes: pesticides sprayed on the troops during deployment and pyridostigmine bromide, an anti-nerve agent.
The report, six years in the making, should help Gulf War veterans who for years have been trying to persuade the VA to recognize their medical problems. Many were unable to get medical disability payments from the VA because they couldn't prove their ailments were real and related to their military service.
Originally called Gulf War syndrome, the ailment has become an umbrella for a variety of unexplained illness, including chronic headaches, dizziness, memory loss, fatigue, skin rashes, joint and muscle pain, and respiratory problems, as well as more serious neurological conditions and brain cancer.