VA Renews Focus on Gulf War Syndrome

Soldiers in Iraq during the Persian Gulf War examine a Scud misslie.: Photo by Department of Defense.

Two decades after the United States waged its first war in Iraq, the aftereffects of the conflict are receiving fresh attention from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Many Veterans of the Gulf War have developed symptoms of a puzzling illness, the exact nature of which remains unknown.  VA announced yesterday that Gulf War Syndrome, as it is called, will receive increased attention as the focus of a program targeted at improving care for Gulf War Veterans, and as the subject of a report of the VA Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Task Force.

Gulf War Syndrome manifests itself in a variety of symptoms – including fatigue, headache, joint pain, memory problems and rashes – which defy categorization and often result in misdiagnoses.

Research conducted in the aftermath of the 1991 conflict initially attributed these symptoms to combat-related stress.  However, more recent studies suggest that exposure to pesticides; nerve agents and burning oil fumes may in fact be to blame.

Regardless, Veterans have responded positively to the VA’s continued efforts to improve its approach to treatment of the illness.

As Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, told USA Today, “As a Gulf War veteran, I’m glad that our issues are still on the table.”

VA is planning to adjust its strategies for clinical care, education and outreach according to the recommendations of a report made public yesterday by the Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Task Force.  VA
is actively seeking public responses to the report’s findings before moving ahead with its recommendations, and is soliciting feedback via a special website that will remain open for the next thirty days.

While the cause of Gulf War Syndrome is still unknown, some believe that the fumes from burning oil fields may be a cause.: Photo by U.S. Army.

However, the results of this renewed attention can already be seen.  VA has also announced the creation of a pilot program in Salt Lake City, Utah aimed at providing care to Veterans of the Gulf War and at applying the lessons learned from this clinic to Veterans of all eras and conflicts.

While it is clear that it will be years before a clearer medical understanding of Gulf War Syndrome emerges, the VA hopes that continued input from Veterans will speed the process.

“Their feedback is critical to our efforts to understand and serve their specific needs,” Task Force Chairman John R. Gingrich said. “Therefore, we hope they take advantage of one of the different opportunities to provide feedback that we have created for them.”

To learn more about the ongoing efforts to address the consequences of Gulf War Syndrome, you can visit the websites of the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs.

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