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A Guide for Exploring the Issue

Not surprisingly, for a controversy that has emerged in the age of the World Wide Web there are prolific web resources for examining all aspects of Gulf War Syndrome.  Here's a guide:

 

Official Information Sites
The VA has information for veterans about disability and other information (their health registry number is 1-800-749-8387). The VA also details its on-going scientific research.

Since Khamisiyah, the DOD's Gulflink site has published four information papers and nine case narratives. Other reports are in progress. (The DOD's health registry number is 1-800-796-9699; the incident reporting hotline is 1-800-472-6719.) Those interested in chemical agents might try The Fox NBC Reconnaissance Vehicle. The case narratives for Khamisiyah, Al Jubayl and the U.S. Marine Corps Minefield Breaching give an idea of the thoroughness of Dr. Bernard Rotsker's belated efforts to reconstruct what happened. Rotsker is the DOD's Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses; each report cites numerous source documents, hyper-linked to footnotes in the case narratives.

Forthcoming on Gulflink are a series of reports by RAND, a federally- funded research and development center. DOD has commissioned RAND to prepare reviews of the existing scientific literature on eight of the possible causes of illnesses (the 'risk factors') - from vaccine immunizations to depleted uranium. (To examine these risk factors, go to the web site of the Presidential Advisory Committee, click on the final report and then click on Chapter 4).

The CIA has published their account of how the U.S. authorities failed to realize that U.S. troops were exposed to chemical agents at Khamisiyah - CIA Report on Intelligence Related to Gulf War Illnesses and also detail the results of CIA efforts to model the plume - Modeling the Chemical Warfare Agent Release at the Khamisiyah Pit.

For those especially interested in chemical warfare agents and their effects on the body and what protections are needed, check out the Edgewood CBDCOM site for full details.

 

Science
Gulf War illnesses is one of the most studied health issues of all time. For details of the extensive clinical evaluations of approximately 63,000 Gulf War personnel and the large, on-going research effort, go to the VA Persian Gulf Veterans Coordinating Board web site. For insight into the complex epidemiological issues see FRONTLINE's interview with Dr. Stephen Joseph, or read David Wegman, Nancy F. Woods, John C. Bailar, "Invited Commentary: How Would We Know a Gulf War Syndrome If We Saw One?" published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Four blue ribbon medical/scientific panels have produced reports on Gulf War illnesses. All have failed to identify a unique Gulf War Syndrome and none have been able to find any "magic bullet" to explain the diverse symptomatology. The most detailed, comprehensive (but quite readable) report is by the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses (PAC). This site not only has their three reports but also full transcripts of the hearings the Committee held around the country. Also worth a look are the earlier reports by the Institute of Medicine, the Defense Science Board and the NIH Technology Assessment Workshop: The Persian Gulf Experience and Health. These essentially agree with the PAC's conclusions. As already noted, those interested in risk factors can find a summary in the PAC report(see chapter 4). The PAC concluded that the only commonly-cited risk factor likely to have contributed to the chronic symptoms was stress. For more on this controversial issue of stress, see the article by Captain Kenneth C.Hyams - "War Syndromes and Their Evaluation: From the U.S. Civil War to the Persian Gulf War" in which Hyams reviews veterans' experience in previous wars. Also, read FRONTLINE's interview with Hyams. And for a different view, see Dr. Robert Haley's research and evaluation. There is a vast scientific literature, but among the most influential studies are three controlled epidemiological studies which examined the rate of disease in Gulf War servicemen and compared it with servicemen who didn't go to the Gulf. The end points studied were mortality, hospitalization, and birth defects.

 

Dissenting Voices
Congressman Bernard Sanders recently wrote a letter, signed by 86 members of Congress, urging the PAC to change their conclusions that stress was the likely cause of the vets' illness. Sanders cited the work of a series of so-called independent scientists, foremost among these is epidemiologist Robert Haley at Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas who claims to have established an association between various chemical exposures (as perceived by vets) and certain symptom clusters. Haley's recent articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association (go to the AMA homepage, click on "search" and enter Haley's name and his abstracts come up) provoked much discussion including an editorial by Dr. Philip Landrigan. See also FRONTLINE's interview with Dr. Haley. Also cited among the dissenting voices are the scientists Garth and Nancy Nicolson who theorize that a genetically modified mycoplasma is the cause of Gulf War Illness.

 

Is there a Gulf War Syndrome in Other Countries?
One mystery is why the symptoms of Gulf War Illnesses are not found among all allied troops to the same degree, and why different countries favor different risk factors. The phenomenon is most pronounced in the U.S. Very few cases were reported in the U.K. before about 1994 (leading to accusations that the American media coverage may have partially encouraged its development there). Today, the chief causative theory in the U.K. involves pesticides rather than chemical agents (very few, if any, U.K. troops were positioned in the Khamisiyah plume).

Canada has a few cases and some Czech cases have been reported. But France, who sent a large force, have reported no cases (Interestingly, France has now reported that her troops did take pyridostigmine bromide pills so it is hard to see what is different among French troops from the point of view of exposure.) Finally, in the Arab countries which sent large forces (Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) and Kuwait itself, Gulf War Syndrome does not exist, at least officially.

 

Veterans"
Established vet groups like the American Legion have been active on this issue. There are also some special Gulf vet organizations that advocate for veterans :Desert Storm Mom, National Gulf War Resource Center Inc.

Many of the vets' stories are tragic and this FRONTLINE web site includes a few of FRONTLINE's interviews with them: Paul and Connie Hanson - They believe that their child Jayce was born with physical deformities because of Paul's Gulf War exposures. Jim and Glenda Simpson - Simpson believes he has contracted Gulf War Illness and transmitted it to other family members. Brian Martin - Martin, dubbed the 'poster boy' for Gulf War Syndrome, has appeared on 30 television shows, attended a dozen or more Congressional hearings and hosts his own web site. Brian Hale - Hale is a veteran who has not had any problems since the war and feels the media has scared people unduly.

 

Media
The media has extensively covered this issue - but how well? Read the transcript of the PBS program "Media Matters" which interviewed a number of journalists about their coverage of Gulf War Syndrome. You might want to look at FRONTLINE's interviews with Dr. Stephen Joseph and Matt Puglisi. Puglisi is spokesman for the American Legion; Joseph led the DOD investigation into veterans' illnesses. And there's also social critic and medical historian Elaine Showalter who weighs in against the media and the way it fueled fears among veterans and their families. See the chapter on 'Gulf War Syndrome' from her controversial book, Hystories.

 

Congress
Congress has been very active on this issue. Some of its hearings can be accessed at its web site. And, check out Congressman Christopher Shays' site which links directly to his committee's report on GWS and to Congressman Bernard Sanders' web site to find details of their efforts including investigations and reports. Both are critical of PAC's conclusions that stress was the likely explanation for Gulf veterans' health problems.

 

 
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