Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Panel: Gulf War Illness Confirmed

Gulf War Syndrome? Isn't that all in their heads? That's more or less what the official line has been for 17 years.

by: Thomas D. Williams, t r u t h o u t | Report

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Anthony Averella, a Gulf War veteran, struggles with Lou Gehrig's disease as well as inadequate medical benefits. (Photo: Chiaki Kawajiri / The Baltimore Sun)

A federal health panel released conclusions Monday that evidence strongly and consistently indicates hundreds of thousands of US troops in the first Gulf War contracted long-term illnesses from use of pills, given by their own military to protect them from effects of chemical weaponized nerve agents, and from their military's pesticide use during deployment.

Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses report covers a large range of scientific research and government investigations on Gulf War illness. Its authors claim their "comprehensive analysis" resolves many questions about what caused Gulf War illness and what types of health care can address these serious conditions, which affect at least one in four of the 697,000 Gulf War veterans.

A committee summary describes veterans' various, painfully nagging and long-term health obstacles. "Illness profiles typically include some combination of chronic headaches, cognitive difficulties, widespread pain, unexplained fatigue, chronic diarrhea, skin rashes, respiratory problems, and other abnormalities. This symptom complex, now commonly referred to as Gulf War illness, is not explained by routine medical evaluations or by psychiatric diagnoses and has persisted, for many veterans, for 17 years. While specific symptoms can vary between individuals, a remarkably consistent illness profile has emerged from hundreds of reports and studies of different Gulf War veteran populations from different regions of the US and from allied countries."

In addition to pills supposedly protecting soldiers from nerve agents, the deadly agents themselves ultimately became a crucial wartime exposure. During the January and February 1991 ground war and after, US and allied forces destroyed large stores of Iraqi chemical weapons. And, as the war itself progressed, thousands of military chemical alarms went off, causing soldiers to don chemical protective equipment. Since then, the US General Accountability Office (GAO) and veterans' advocates have repeatedly criticized the lack of quality of the chemical protective masks and protective suits worn by US troops.

Two of the most controversial after-war explosions of underground Iraqi chemical storage depots were set off by US forces themselves at Khamisiyah, Iraq, on March 4 and 10, 1991. Few of the troops were wearing protective gear at the time even though US forces had access to earlier intelligence reports detailing the chemicals inside the bombed bunkers. The Defense Department (DoD) first estimated that 5,000 troops were exposed, and then increased the estimates repeatedly until the number rose to 100,000. Another GAO report said the number is much higher than that but gave no specific figure. At the time and years afterward, the DoD claimed the troops' exposure to chemical warfare agents was too weak to have seriously harmed their health.

Still another of the Research Advisory Committee's conclusions says, "Studies indicate that Gulf War veterans have significantly higher rates of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) than other veterans, and that Gulf War veterans potentially exposed to nerve agents have died from brain cancer at elevated rates. Although these conditions have affected relatively few veterans, they are cause for concern and require continued monitoring."

Pesticides, mentioned in Monday's committee report, were used routinely during the war to protect service members against harmful or molesting insects biting troops throughout the Iraq war zone. Common Gulf War insecticides included d-phenothrin, chlorpyrifos, resmethrin, malathion, methomyl and lindane, according to the US Department of Defense Deployment Health Clinical Center. Deet and permethrin (a pyrethroid), are technically repellents rather than insecticides, says the center, but they were also an ultimate health concern, the center opines.

The Research Advisory Committee's continued conclusions say that limited other evidence, not totally decisive, shows that the armed service members could have become sick from low-level exposure to chemical warfare nerve agents as well as their close proximity to oil well fires, their receipt of multiple so-called preventative vaccines, and the effects of combinations of their hazardous other Gulf War exposures.

There's more.



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