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Gulf War Syndrome

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Gulf War Syndrome Gets Real

BU experts evaluate the science for landmark federal report


SPH’s Roberta White says symptoms of Gulf War syndrome, such as fatigue, skin lesions, and gastrointestinal upset, are not the result of stress alone. Photo by Frank Curran

Gulf War veterans suffering a host of neurological problems have scored a victory in their struggle to legitimize their medical claims – thanks in part to public health experts at BU, whose research effectively debunks years of government denials.

A congressionally mandated panel, made up of leading scientists, medical experts, and military veterans, charged with shaping federal health research related to the 1991 Middle East conflict has concluded that Gulf War syndrome is a real medical condition and that it afflicts at least one in four of the 697,000 U.S. veterans who fought in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. The landmark report, presented in November by the BU-based Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses to Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake, calls on Congress to appropriate $60 million for treatment of Gulf War vets.

“Veterans of the first Gulf War have been plagued by symptoms of ill health, including fatigue, problems with thinking, skin lesions, and gastrointestinal upset, since their return seventeen years ago,” says Roberta White, the committee’s scientific director and a professor and chair of the School of Public Health department of environmental health. “Despite their persistence and severity, these symptoms have often led to no diagnosis in a substantial portion of the war’s veterans.”

The 450-page report brings together for the first time the full range of scientific research and government investigations on Gulf War illness. The report found that the condition fundamentally differs from stress-related syndromes seen after other wars and states that scientific evidence “leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a real condition.”

The report lays the blame for several health problems on the troops’ exposure to toxins, primarily in two contexts where the exposure was caused by the U.S. military itself. In anticipation of a chemical attack, the drug pyridostigmine bromide was given to hundreds of thousands of troops. And living and dining areas, tents, and uniforms were sprayed with pesticides to battle desert insects.

The report also suggests that the U.S. demolition of an Iraqi munitions dump may have exposed 100,000 troops to nerve gas stored at the facility. Gulf War veterans have shown significantly higher rates of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, than veterans of other wars. And troops that were stationed downwind from the demolition site have died from brain cancer at twice the rate of other Gulf War veterans.

For almost two decades, the government and the military have downplayed veterans’ complaints, often referring to them as another form of post-traumatic stress disorder. For its report, the research committee evaluated hundreds of studies of Gulf War veterans, extensive research in other human populations, studies on toxic exposures in animals, and government investigations related to exposures in the Gulf War.

“The illness is probably controversial because it’s symptom-based, and most veterans don’t have a common medical diagnosis that fits all of their symptoms,” White says. “It may also be controversial because people feel that it’s obvious that war is stressful and therefore stress must be causing the health symptoms, even though this has never been proven. In fact, it’s been discounted in quite a few studies.”

White has been studying Gulf War illnesses since 1993 and served as research director of one of the three initial VA-funded centers on Gulf War illness. Since the early 1990s the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, among other federal entities, have funded SPH studies of Gulf War veterans and the effects of exposure to low-level sarin, pesticides, and pyridostigmine bromide.





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CommentsOn 19 April 2009 at 3:06 PM, Antonio C. Kelley Sr ('95) wrote:

I forward links to articles about Gulf War Illness for a couple of reasons. The first reason is because I am a Gulf War Veteran, and I've had some problems since I came back from Iraq on March 28, 1991. My problems aren't near as bad as some of the other veterans and their families. I think God that I as still able to work, and support my family so far. I truly thank Him with all my heart. It is only because of God that I am alive today. I say this because when I was discharged from the Army I was suicidal, but my Christian up bringing wouldn't allow me to take my life. Thank you Jesus. I forward these links for reason number two. I don't want my sick brothers and sisters at arms to be forgotten while Americans get so caught up in the economy that they forget there's veterans and their families still suffering and fighting this war almost nineteen years after G. Bush called for a cease fire. Don't forget us. Don't forget them. The third reason is, we are now sending our children their without knowing what caused us to become ill, and because The U.S. hasn't don't anything satisfactory to compensate, and help those whose lives it has already destroyed. They just keep throwing money at the Universities, and research centers while waiting for Gulf War Veterans to die off. If you forget these veterans then who will fight for those veterans and their families who fought for you. May God bless you and keep you in his perfect peace.

On 15 April 2009 at 9:59 AM, David H. Marshall (ENG'61) wrote:

e. Gulf War Symptom Oversights. From 1956 the same on noise! Previously identified were the available on request 77 injured USAF personnel. This is a from 1956 Project 7210 known certain jet engine injury for ALL UNPROTECTED flight line and navy deck personnel. It is requested that you ask your congressional representatives to see that oversight and accountability is realized for everyone. This is for a 1948, required at a 95 decibels (dB) noise level, without protection injury. It is a sound pressure multiple (X) of 59 times that of a normal conservation. A then 1956 known from 6,144 X (@ 135 dB) through 815,583 X (@ 177 dB) certain disability. An in 2009 now over 50 years later overlooked injury to many. A mysterious disappearance of proof!

A 2009 visit to the Project 7210 "contrails.iit.edu" site revealed that the under its "search", using "TR 54-401", the 130 page jet engine noise levels Report has disappeared! This is the proof of the U. S. Militaryâ•˙s unprotected jet engine very high noise levels that ranged from 135 dB to 177 dB. It was a then known certain injury in direct disobedience of the 1948 Air Force Regulation (AFR) 160-3. This is its 95 dB. maximum noise level with a sound pressure multiple (X) of 59 without protection. The USAF Wright Air Development Center "contrails.iit.edu" site had the July 1956, Project 7210, Technical Report (TR) 54-401. Recorded, at a radius of 50 feet, are the noise levels for 27 versions of 10 jet-engines in 1947 to 1956 U. S. Military service. This previously received, now vanished from site report is attached. The sound pressure multiple (X) source is the American Medical Association (AMA) Family Medical Guide 3d. Edition page 365, also attached. Its 60 dB "Normal c!

Conversation" is the base line for the calculated AMA "....sound pressure doubles with an increase of 6 decibels". Accordingly, the 27 versions of the10 jet-engines have an overall sound pressure multiple ranging from 6,144 X (@ 135 dB) to 815,583 X (@ 177 dB) vs. the ignored required 59 X (@ 95 dB) protection. TR 54-401 and this veteranâ•˙s in-hand documentation could help some so exposed, e.g., "Had some trouble with hearing while working on warm-up crew for F-86 D with very high noise levels." The physicianâ•˙s 29 Jan. 54 USAF Cadet Wing Commander washout statement. At Tyndall AFB, Panama City, Florida all flight line personnel were unprotected and subjected to the Project 7210 "very high noise levels". For F-86D personnel it is the then known certain J47-GE-1 jet-engine noise level injury, i.e., the attached TR 54-401 pages 68-75, "Test Group 10, Date of the Tests: 1952, Test Numbers 62-64". This is an at 50 feet 158 dB noise level with an 87,381 X sound pressure multiple. Fifteen (15) of the 77 were repeatedly exposed to a "warm-up crew" level of over 699,051 X at 176 dB! As with ALL UNPROTECTED flight line (USAF, Army) and flight deck (USN) personnel they worked well within a 50 feet radius and were injured in direct disobedience of the 1948 AFR 160-3.

Your consideration is most appreciated. Thank you.

On 15 April 2009 at 9:17 AM, Michelle North wrote:

I am a veteran of the Gulf War. I went to our local VA hospital, when I first came home. I too, have experienced many of the symptoms that other soliders have. I was also in a study, but at the end of the study, they said "there is no real Gulf War Syndrome". To this day, I am extremely tired, just found to have Gastric Polyps in my stomach, have always had stomach and colon problems, and can not think clearly. Sometimes I think I'm loosing my mind. But it doesn't seem that anyone in the military is helping us. They just keep telling us its all in our head. Please, let me know where I can go to get help. We deserve it. People join the military to honor and protect our country and what do we get for it when its all over? Nothing....

On 14 April 2009 at 3:36 PM, Richard G. Shuster wrote:

From it's onset, Gulf War Syndrome has always been real, but what has been unreal was the apparent ignorng of the blatent use of experimental vaccines and adjuvants on our military. The desired focus on chemical and other exposures has eclipsed the underlying issues of the cause and effects of medical experimentation on unuspecting test subjects through wide spread use of experimental vaccines in Gulf War era and other eras of military veterans.

My question has been and remains for most of the various hypotheses; why are so many non-deployed veterans ill with the same or similar symptomology as those deployed. Then and now; it is the only common denominator that ties the primary source to the injected vaccines to both subject groups who received the experimental vaccines.

I had lunch recently with a good friend, a very learned fellow and lifelong bio-chemist and professor. He has been aware of some of the issues dating back to the CFS ╲outbreak╡ at Lake Tahoe in the early 80â•˙s that followed the administration of flu shots to a group of people; thus began the whole pursuit of chronic diseases. A government contractor developed the adjuvant used in the flu vaccine, the same that continued to be used in other vaccines and is reportedly still being used. The adjuvant has been frequently but inconsistently used over a period of at least 25 or so year, in various multiple vaccines both in military and civilian use experimental and standard vaccines. There are troops and civilians who are still getting vaccines using experimental vaccines and adjuvant(s).

Taking a breath here; I capitulate that in addition to the issues surrounding the experimental vaccines, there are other components in the illnesses of those deployed and so exposed; Depleted Uranium, PB, Chemicals of many kinds, localized environmental concerns, and some other unique combinations. But none of them has the 1-2 punch of deployed and non-deployed, as the experimental vaccines do.

Of course, it is positive to see some long overdue attention being directed to those many afflicted with the Gulf War Syndrome, but this and other limited scope research wll remain inadequate until all root causes are honestly examined, admitted and addressed. Until the widespread use of experimental vaccines on our military personnel is shown in the light of day, the proper addressing of diagnoses and treatment is sorely incomplete and misdirected.

On 14 April 2009 at 12:27 PM, Donald Overton wrote:

Unfortunately, the same problems still exist with DoD and VA which is a refusal to acknowledge the exposures. When the VA received the RAC report Sec. Peake remanded the study to the IOM for further review. All of the IOM's previous studies have been flawed and I doubt they will get it right this time. The new VA Sec. Shinseki has already discounted Gulf War exposures by refusing to make a myriad of conditions presumptive for service connected disability compensation. Gulf War vets continue to be denied access to health care and benefits and continue to die at alarming rates. We have been abandoned and once buried forgotten...it is shameful.

On 13 April 2009 at 2:41 PM, Rita wrote:

Gulf War Syndrome is real.

On 12 April 2009 at 11:21 AM, Angel Lytle (SPC'86) wrote:

I was thrilled to read that our soldiers will now be taken care of like they should have been taken care of years ago. I understand all too well how they all must feel. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and most of the medical field refuses to acknowledge hat we actually have a disease that is debilitating.

In this country, research on certain diseases take a backseat to others, and that is so unfair to the sufferers of those diseases. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for finally giving the soldiers of the Gulf War the attention that they so desperately need.

On 10 April 2009 at 8:03 PM, Samol wrote:

What of those who fell ill in the US, too ill to fly to the Gulf? Those soldiers were given Lariam, an anti malarial prophylaxis, which is known to induce devastating symptoms. In effect, damage inflicted by Lariam, include sudden cardiac death, and irreversible damage to brain and other organs. neurological symptoms, cardiac, liver, renal, skin, allergies, and other symptoms, reactivating dormant bacterial and viral infections. Those soldiers were also given fluoroquinolones antibiotics, which are known, to also have similar devastating side effects?

On 10 April 2009 at 8:30 PM, Sharon Smith (MED'75) wrote:

"The report also suggests that the U.S. demolition of an Iraqi munitions dump may have exposed 100,000 troops to nerve gas stored at the facility. Gulf War veterans have shown significantly higher rates of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, than veterans of other wars. And troops that were stationed downwind from the demolition site have died from brain cancer at twice the rate of other Gulf War veterans."

So Saddam didn't have WMD What is nerve gas? What was in the munitions that caused cancer? Were there radioactive heads on the rockets and bullets that Saddam had in his arsenal? They didn't test them-they just destroyed them.That is the only thing that would explain the high incidence of brain cancer.The bromine in pyridostigmine bromide can explain the Gulf war syndrome in part. Saddam also had chemical weapons which he used to gas the Kurds with.If that isnt a WMD then what the hell is? OF COURSE SADDAM HAD WMD.

This is a travesty to call Gulf war syndrome a psychological post traumatic stress disorder.

On 10 April 2009 at 8:03 PM, Samol wrote:

Not an alumnus, but I wanted to thank you for the article. These people have been mistreated, and so have the civilian counterparts who suffer from pesticide poisoning, myalgic encephalomyelitis (sometimes called by the horrible and incorrect name "chronic fatigue syndrome"), chronic Lyme, and other neuroimmune conditions.

There is still hope that they will recognize something sometime somewhere for some of us.


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Gulf war illness? I tell you about Gulf war illness. I was stock in the midle of the burning oil wells, in the midle of that nasty smoke. Every day for the past 18 years at least 4 or 5 times per day I feel like I am running out of air, choking. I have been to the emergency room 3 times but they can't find anything. I have been having all the symptoms even before the "Gulf war illnes" turm was thought of.

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