Gulf War Syndrome Is Not A Mental Illness
> 11/18/2008 6:11:21 PM

The fact that thousands of American military men and women who’d served in Operation Desert Storm suffered from similarly debilitating neurological symptoms in the years following their return is beyond dispute. But in a finding that goes against years of statements issued by various governments and military officials, a recent study has determined that the conditions related to this conflict, which have been lumped together under the Gulf War Syndrome heading, constitute a legitimate physical condition and cannot be attributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Despite previous studies like this one sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and repeated denials by the British and American governments, Gulf War Syndrome is a very real, very physical condition that can no longer be confused with the traumatic brain injuries (TMI) and PTSD cases plaguing so many veterans of the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reason for the longstanding disagreement between governments and veterans is clear: responsible parties did not wish to pay for the treatments that their actions made necessary.

The line between cause and effect is quite simple: anticipating the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi military, military commanders gave soldiers anthrax vaccines and other medications designed to protect against the effects of the nerve gas sarin. In addition to these drugs many of the soldiers were also exposed to large amounts of pesticides to prevent the passage of infectious diseases common to that area of the world. Some researchers also believe that exposure to depleted uranium munitions left over from various conflicts in the area played a causal role in the syndrome’s subsequent development. At any rate, in the years following the war’s end, members of the American, British, Canadian, Australian and Danish militaries began reporting debilitating symptoms, the most common of which were fatigue, severe headaches, memory problems, gastrointestinal difficulties and chronic muscle pains. As time went, on researchers noted abnormally high levels of fatal brain tumors, fibromyalgia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) among those who’d served.

Surveys administered by the U.S. Military in the years immediately following the war attributed such symptoms to the infamous brand of battlefield PTSD known as “shell shock,” but the surveys were designed to test for these very conditions and later deemed inconclusive. These initial theories also downplayed the importance of PTSD, classifying it as an “anything goes” diagnosis that could cover all the problems incurred by returning soldiers. The United States military began to change its tune after a 2004 study, very similar to the most recent version, asserted that these many symptoms could not be attributed to PTSD alone. The British government, however, refused to participate, and controversy retained its hold on American officials.

The new 452-page study, however, makes the facts even clearer. The major cause of reported Gulf War Illness symptoms is a physical condition brought about, primarily, by exposure to pesticides and nerve gas pre-treatment pills. The fact that GWS is not a mental health issue should offer respite and vindication for the many researchers and veterans who argued that their conditions could not be psychological in origin. And we can now cross another infamous affliction from the list of those attributed to mental instability. Unfortunately, no common cure for the syndrome’s many symptoms has yet been suggested, and individual cases seem to vary widely. As the report states, “Gulf War illness is real,” affecting nearly one in four of the nearly 700,000 who served. “Few veterans have recovered.” And, while the government no longer uses the pesticides or medicines named in the report, related nightmares show no sign of subsiding for thousands of Americans.

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