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ANALYSING THE MAJOR THEORIES
ON THE CAUSES OF GULF WAR ILLNESSES
Here is FRONTLINE's guide to the best of what is known about these risk factors as well as valuable material to evaluate the continuing debate over the two major theories: chemical agents and stress.

Panels of scientists were asked to review everything known about any toxin vets might have been exposed to in the Gulf - from tropical infections to chemical weapons. In all, four blue ribbon panels were set up including The Defense Science Board, The Institute of Medicine and a special panel created by the president, the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) which for two years reviewed all the scientific reports and held hearings

These scientific panels determined that chemical weapons (along with biological weapons, pesticides, vaccines, depleted uranium and oil fires, PB, and infectious disease) are unlikely to be the cause of the veterans' symptoms. Stress was the only commonly-cited risk factor noted by the scientists which was likely to have contributed to veterans' illnesses Here's the rundown:

 

CHEMICAL HAZARDS
(This theory has commanded the most support among veterans, their advocates, the media, members of Congress)

The conclusions of the PAC on chemical exposures...... Read why the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) said chemical warfare agents are an unlikely cause of the health effects reported by Gulf War veterans. (PAC's report is quite readable.) You might also want to read the overall Summary and Recommendations of the PAC.

The debate over exposure to chemical agents....... Read FRONTLINE's interview with Dr. Robert Haley, an epidemiologist who claims to have established an association between various chemical exposures (as perceived by Gulf veterans) and certain symptom clusters. (Note: The end of the Haley interview links to his published articles and published responses from critics.) Also, read this excerpt from FRONTLINE's interview with Dr. Philip Landrigan who disagrees with Haley's studies. Landrigan was a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC).

For the 'ABCs of chemical warfare agents' you might want to read the U.S. Army's Edgewood Research Development and Engineering Center's research on chemical warfare agents - how they affect the human body, how they should be handled and what protections/special precautions are necessary.

 

STRESS - PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL
(This is the most controversial theory. PAC concluded that stress was the only commonly-cited risk factor likely to have contributed to veterans' symptoms. )

Read the PAC's conclusions regarding stress as a risk factor.

Read FRONTLINE's interview with Captain Kenneth C. Hyams. Hyams, an infectious disease specialist and Desert Storm vet, wondered whether anything like Gulf War syndrome had happened before. So he examined decades of military and medical records and looked at symptoms that appeared in previous wars.

Read "War Syndromes and Their Evaluation: From the U.S. Civil War to the Persian Gulf War." This is Capt. Hyams' article on previous wars and stress.

Read FRONTLINE's interview with Congressman Christopher Shays. He is a strong proponent of the theory that chemical agents exposure - not stress - is the cause of veterans' health problems.

Read FRONTLINE's interview with Congressman Bernard Sanders concerning his criticism of scientists' determinations that stress is a likely factor. Sanders recently wrote a letter signed by dozens of congressmen urging the PAC to change their conclusion that stress was the likely cause of vet's illness.

 

PAC Reports
Read the conclusions of the PAC on:

 

 
home . join the discussion . analyzing the major theories . five interviews . the veterans . a closer look . examining the media's role . a guide to the site . comparing gulf veterans' health with other veterans . tapes & transcripts . press reaction

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