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America's Changing Position on Gulf War Syndrome

As the Iraqi war currently shows no signs of letting up, I'm reminded of the soldiers who fought just as bravely in Desert Storm more than a decade ago, many of whom are still fighting the battle, this time for their own health.

You may recall a post last year about my concerns that Gulf War II soldiers could be facing similar troubles due to chemical exposures and needless vaccinations for anthrax. In fact, one out of every seven soldiers who fought in the first Gulf War receive disability payments. Thankfully, these brave men and women are receiving something -- although nothing could truly "repay" them for giving up their good health -- but for a long time the U.K., U.S., Australian and Canadian governments disputed such claims.

The U.S. changed their tune, however, prompted by recent American research suggesting a disease with a physical basis linked to chemical exposure in the Gulf. According to a report due to be released next week, "A substantial proportion of Gulf war veterans are ill with multisystem conditions not explained by wartime stress or psychiatric illness."

Some 30 percent of Gulf veterans suffer from various combinations of fatigue, muscle and joint pains, headache, and gut and cognitive problems, far more than non-Gulf veterans, the report says. It blames damage caused by nerve gas and its antidotes, and organophosphate insecticides (OPs), which all block the enzyme that normally destroys acetylcholine, an important neural signalling chemical.

What probably made people doubt the stories of symptoms from which soldiers suffered: Soldiers reporting one of three clusters of symptoms that one U.S. scientist believes are variants of the same disease.

New Scientist November 3, 2004

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