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Gulf War Illness: Veteran Illness Caused by Toxic Exposures


gulfwar_illnessIn the first Gulf War more than 25 years ago, 700,000 American troops were deployed. These brave men and women fought and won the war with remarkably low casualties. After the war, some American troops that came back to the United States suffered from different illnesses caused by toxic exposures during the Gulf war. According to the report from the Boston University of School Health (BUSPH), it was estimated that more than 250,000 of those deployed during the first Gulf war suffered from a complex and debilitating disorder which is now called the Gulf War Illness or GWI.

According to the studies that were conducted by Roberta White (Professor of Environmental Health at BUSP) and her other colleagues from other institutions, they concluded that “exposure to pesticides and ingestion of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) – prophylactic pills intended to protect troops against the effects of possible nerve gas are causally associated with GWI and the neurological dysfunction in Gulf War veterans.” Some Veterans who suffers from neurological problems were also linked to the exposure to nerve-gas agents’ sarin and cyclosarin as well as to oil well fire emissions that were rampantly used during the first Gulf war.

Veterans who were diagnosed to have Gulf war illnesses suffer from what they call “toxic wounds”. Toxic wounds according to the review that was published by Professor Roberta White and her colleagues damages veterans’ nervous systems and immune systems, including neuroendocrine and immune dysregulation, autonomic nervous system irregularities, and reduced white and gray matter in veterans’ brains.

SPH Environmental Health Professor Bobbie WhiteFor more than 25 years now, Professor White and her colleagues have been studying the health of American troops that were deployed in the first Gulf War. They want to determine the reasons why there are so many of these Gulf War veterans who suffers from multi-system disorder characterized by fatigue, joint and muscle pain, headaches, concentration and memory problems, gastrointestinal distress, and skin rashes to determine the most effective way in treating this so called Gulf War Illness.

Today, through the efforts and research that were conducted by Professor White and her team, they have begun to produce promising leads. “Further research into the mechanisms and etiology of the health problems of (Gulf War) veterans is critical to developing biomarkers of exposure and illness, and preventing similar problems for military personnel in future deployments. This information is also critical for developing new treatments for GWI and related neurological dysfunction,” they write.

For years, Gulf war veterans have complained that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has not taken the Gulf War Illness seriously.  Then in 2008, a Congressionally mandated panel directed by Professor White—the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses—issued a landmark report concluding that Gulf War Illness was a “real” disorder, distinct from stress-related syndromes, and urging a robust research effort into its causes and potential cures.

Today, research on the cure for GWI is still ongoing. The good news is the research has been producing more and more promising results on how to properly treat and address veterans who are suffering from Gulf war illnesses caused by toxic exposures.



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