Study says Gulf War illnesses caused by toxinsJanuary 8, 1997
Web posted at: 11:50 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Army Col. Herb Smith once taught physical education, but he's been on crutches since returning from the Gulf War. He's had days when he was in so much pain, he could only lie in bed while tears ran down his face.
Suggest to him -- as a blue ribbon presidential panel did on Tuesday -- that stress may be part of his problem, and he'll suggest that the government is in denial.
"I think if they had been more compassionate, more realistic in believing that problems really did exist rather that blowing it off as a psychological problem for every single person, they wouldn't be getting the press coverage they get today," Smith says.
At least 5,000 of the 80,000 Gulf War veterans have illnesses that have not yet been diagnosed. The Defense Department and Veterans Administration have insisted that no single Gulf War syndrome or pattern has been found to show that the veterans have similar ailments.
But a study released Wednesday by researchers from Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas appears to substantiate what Smith and others have been saying.
War veterans are not stressed, the study concludes. They are sick from exposure to combinations of nerve agents, pesticides, insect repellent and anti-nerve gas drugs.
The study says a combination of agents in the 1991 war caused three different syndromes, the most serious of which produced confusion, dizziness, reasoning problems and sexual impotence.
A separate study conducted in Iowa found that 2,000 Gulf War veterans reported more illnesses than an equal number of veterans who did not go to the Gulf, and suggested that the Gulf War complaints might be due to greater exposure to chemicals, solvents and other agents there.
The studies contradict the conclusion of President Clinton's Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses, which said Tuesday that no such specific causes had been found for the illnesses, but that stress was a major factor.
Among the findings in the University of Texas study of 249 members of the Navy combat construction units known as Seabees was that confusion was unusually high among those at Khafji near the Saudi-Kuwait border on January 20, 1991. Czechoslovakian experts in the area that day detected low levels of the mustard gas and the chemical sarin.
The study also found that Seabees who wore flea collars to ward off insects suffered memory problems, depression, insomnia, fatigue and headaches.
A third Gulf War syndrome -- muscle pains and weakness -- was found in Seabees who were exposed to heavy concentrations of insect repellents.
"The syndromes are due to subtle brain, spinal cord and nerve damage," says Dr. Robert Haley of the medical center, "but not stress."
"What we are seeing with most of the sick Gulf War veterans is not post-traumatic stress disorder," says Matt Puglisi, an American Legion spokesman. "It's something else and maybe the folks at the University of Texas have put their finger on what some of the veterans may be suffering."
But a member of the presidential advisory committee says the study is too small and too restricted either to prove multiple chemical exposures or to rule out stress as a cause.
"The data that were presented this morning raise the question, raise very substantially and very seriously the question of neuro-toxic effects," Dr. Philip Landrigan of the presidential advisory committee says. "But in my view they don't pin it to the ground."
Both the Pentagon and the panel say more research is needed to find definitive answers.
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