Friday, February 27, 2009

Finally, piece of mind for Gulf War Veterans

Finally, piece of mind for Gulf War Veterans


A long-anticipated report was recently and finally issued that brought comfort to many Gulf War veterans and their families. The report issued by the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Com-mittee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses in conjunction with the Boston University School of Public Health reached an important conclusion – simply put: there is substantial and overwhelming evidence that Gulf War Syndrome is a real illness.

The Committee report is important news for Gulf War veterans and their families. At long last, they have validation that the health issues they live with each day are real, there is a name for their illness, and there is hope that they can finally get the treatment and disability benefits that they are entitled to receive.

Not long after the successful conclusion of the Gulf War, many soldiers returned home with multiple, persistent health problems that had no clear cause and no cure. The symptoms experienced by these veterans included a combination of memory and concentration problems, persistent headaches, unexplained fatigue and widespread pain, and also included chronic digestive problems, respiratory symptoms and skin rashes.

Unfortunately, Gulf War veterans’ complaints about their health issues fell on deaf ears at the VA and within the Pentagon. As Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in the early 1990s, I believed it absolutely necessary to get to the truth – no matter how uncomfortable it would be for the Pentagon or the VA.

Throughout the 1990s, those of us on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held numerous, often contentious, hearings into what would come to be known as Gulf War Syndrome or Gulf War Illness. The Pentagon and the VA never officially acknowledged the cause of these symptoms. Despite the lack of an official cause, it became clear through our investigation that pyridostigmine bromide, a “pretreatment” for nerve agent poisoning, was at least one cause for the symptoms experienced by Gulf War veterans.

Now, 17 years later, the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Com-mittee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses has officially released a 450-page report that validates these suspicions. It confirms Gulf War Illness is a result of soldiers’ exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, including pyridostigmine bromide and pesticides. The Committee also found that the association between exposure to smoke from oil well fires, neurotoxins, and the receipt of large numbers of vaccines could not be ruled out as causes as well.

This report confirms the cause of Gulf War Illness, but sadly, it also states that the majority of sick Gulf War veterans have not seen their health improve over time. Treatment options for the 175,000 – 210,000, or one in four, Gulf War veterans suffering from the effects of neurotoxin exposure remain few and ineffective.

We have a moral responsibility to provide care for Gulf War veterans. They served our country, put their lives on the line and fought with great distinction. I will not stop fighting until our veterans are provided with every resource and benefit they have earned.

More research must be conducted into the proper treatment of this illness. I am pushing now for increased funding that will keep this issue front and center – and bring us closer to finding a cure.

I have been working for Veterans my entire career. As a nation, we owe them everything and can never forget how much they have sacrificed and how deserving they are of piece of mind, support, and a special thing called hope.

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