Gulf War Illnesses Remain Baffling

Article excerpt

Despite decreases in funding, research on causes, diagnosis and treatment of Gulf War illnesses continues to move forward. Yet 21 years after the war, as much continues to be unknown as understood.

Funding for research into Gulf War illness has dropped from $41 million in 2001 to $17 million in 2010-a 59% decrease in 10 years. The 2011 Defense Appropriations Act includes only $10 million (approved Dec. 17) over the next year for the Congres s ionally Directed Medical Research Program, which conducts VA research projects.

Nonetheless, strides are still being made in terms of diagnosing, treating and understanding the causes of the medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses affecting many 1991 Persian Gulf War veterans.

'ISSUES ARE STILL ON THE TABLE'

VA's Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Task Force released an updated report late last year. Among its recommendations was a pilot program with a specialized clinic for patients with illnesses related to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The test case is now under way at the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center and includes training programs on environmental exposures for clinicians.

"As a Gulf War veteran, I'm glad that our issues are still on the table," VFW Public Affairs Director Joe Davis told USA Today in October. "With the dust, the oil fires and the burn pits, it's just a given that some people are going to have a reaction."

The Salt Lake City hospital has been involved in research on Gulf War illnesses for years. Effectiveness of the current program is scheduled to be reviewed in February and July 2012.

As of November, 152,126 of the 763,337 personnel sent to the region from August 1990 until February 1991 have filed service-related disability claims- 20% of the total. More than 87,000 have sought VA health care for illnesses and symptoms such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), chronic fatigue, joint pain, headaches, blurred vision and gastrointestinal disorders.

A VA report published in July 2011 in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that 9% of Gulf War veterans developed post-traumatic stress disorder from 1995-2005. In 2005, 31% Gulf War vets reported being functionally impaired (defined as interfering with one or more life activities), compared to 16% of non- deployed veterans of that era.

IMPROVED DIAGNOSIS COULDBENEFITTREATMENT

While the link between Persian Gulf service and related illnesses is high, a diagnosis still eludes physicians. Investigators in a San Diego-based Veterans Medical Research Foundation (a private not-forprofit corporation funded primarily by federal grants) study hope to develop the first biological diagnosis for the Gulf War cluster of ailments. …