One of the ignored stories of Gulf War I was the presence of Gulf War Syndrome in those returning from that war.

Now, as a doc, I am leery of “conspiracy theories”, and I have seen enough hysterical women who have “chemical sensitivities” “hypoglycemia” :”fibromyalgia” “chronic fatigue syndrome” or whatever Oprah was talking about that week. A lot of these women were depressed, fat, and married to alcoholics. Not that there isn’t some truth in these syndromes (I suffer from all of them) but a lot of these women seemed to need a disease to justify their inability to cope with stress, so they would obsess about their minor symptoms as a way to escape from life.

Yet we also saw a lot of women who had subtle changes in their immune system, with slightly abnormal ANA and other tests, and about half of them were not the hysterical depressed women, but ordinary women who just wanted relief so they could continue with their jobs. Finally someone decided fibromyalgia did exist, and although treatment is hard, we can finally relieve these women of the burden that “it was all in their head”.

So when thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Gulf War Veterans returned home and started developing strange numbness, problems with thinking, and joint swelling, experts often just shrugged and said: Stress. Combat fatigue. Post Traumatic stress.

Yet the vague symptoms were suggestive of low level insecticide/nerve gas exposure. And not all those who suffered were hypochondria: when a Green Beret who prided himself on daily five mile runs and lifting weights ended up practically in a wheel chair, I don’t think it’s “all in his head”.

And other docs saw the same thing. Yet there seemed to be a wall in the system against the diagnosis of Gulf War Syndrome, partly because it was hard to fit into a pattern, partly because some cases were obviously Post Traumatic stress syndrome, partly because of the fear of the “kaching” syndrome, i.e. after easy pensions, and partly because the Clinton administration and the press didn’t give a shit about veterans, who unlike the government/press elites tended to be from a different background.

But now the government has finally decided that indeed many of the cases were due to nerve gas exposure.

From Wikipedia:

Many of the symptoms, other than low cancer incidence rates, of Gulf War syndrome are similar to the symptoms of organophosphate, mustard gas, and nerve gas poisoning.[citation needed] Gulf War veterans were exposed to a number of sources of these compounds, including nerve gas and pesticides. [26] [27]

Over 125,000 U.S. troops and 9,000 UK troops were exposed to nerve gas and mustard gas when an Iraqi depot in Khamisiyah, Iraq was bombed in 1991. [28]

One of the most unusual events during the build-up and deployment of British forces into the desert of Saudi Arabia was the constant alarms from the NIAD detection systems deployed by all British forces in theatre. The NIAD is a chemical and biological detection system that is set-up some distance away from a deployed unit, and will set off an alarm automatically if an agent is detected. During the troop build-up, these detectors were set off on a large number of occasions, making the soldiers don their respirators. Many reasons were given for the alarms, ranging from fumes from helicopters, fumes from passing jeeps, cigarette smoke and even deodorant worn by troops manning the NIAD posts. Although the NIAD had been deployed countless times in peacetime exercises in the years before the Gulf War, the large number of alarms was, to say the least, very unusual, and the reasons given were something of a joke among the troops. [29]

The Riegle Report said that chemical alarms went off 18,000 times during the Gulf War. The United States did not have any biological agent detection capability during the Gulf War. After the air war started on January 16, 1991, coalition forces were chronically exposed to low (nonlethal) levels of chemical and biological agents released primarily by direct Iraqi attack via missiles, rockets, artillery, or aircraft munitions and by fallout from allied bombings of Iraqi chemical warfare munitions facilities. Chemical detection units from the Czech Republic, France, and Britain confirmed chemical agents. French detection units detected chemical agents. Both Czech and French forces reported detections immediately to U.S. forces. U.S. forces detected, confirmed, and reported chemical agents; and U.S. soldiers were awarded medals for detecting chemical agents. [30]

Despite this suspicion, little was done for these soldiers during the Clinton administration, but Congress authoized funding and now a report has found brain changes on MRI to suggest that indeed, soldiers who were exposed to low levels of nerve gas did develop a syndrome.

So hopefully these soldiers will finally get their treatment covered by the VA system.

The bad news? The VA system, like the military hospitals, have been gradually dismantled over the last twenty years since the end of the cold war. Expect more exposes on the problems there, blaming on Bush for a deterioration that goes back to Reagan and got worse during Clinton.

The other bad news? Want to bet not one reporter will ask Mrs. Clinton why her husband’s administration stonewalled the problem for eight years? And if the Gulf War syndrome was caused by nerve gas, and the UN inspectors know they did not destroy all the supplies of nerve gas during the 1990’s, isn’t it possible for a repeat of the problem if terrorists find where the remaining gas is hidden?
Sigh. Maybe we should go back to a draft, not of poor guys like in ‘Nam, but of the elites. Make it a rule that everyone who goes to college has to serve two years in the military. Bet that will not only stop presidents from starting unnecessary wars, but will actually open the eyes of the pacifist crowd who thinks that Saudi suicide bombers in Baghdad who kill Shiite civilians because they are apostate Muslims are merely patriotic minute men who need to be cheered on.
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and fishmarket, and she writes medical essays on HeyDocXanga Blog

She served in the National Guard but resigned due to age and medical problems shortly before the Gulf War.

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