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DoD Joins With VA to Resolve Gulf War Veterans’ Health Issues

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 26, 2008 – The Defense Department continues to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to resolve veterans’ health issues, including maladies associated with the Gulf War, a senior DoD official said here today.

“We work very closely with the VA for those who’ve separated” from military service, Dr. Michael E. Kilpatrick, deputy director of health affairs for force health protection and readiness, told American Forces Press Service and Pentagon Channel reporters.

“We find that the No. 1 disability that veterans have is problems with muscles, bones and joints, ankles, knees and lower back,” Kilpatrick said. These types of ailments, he said, also surface as the top health issues cited by active-duty troops at sick call.

“So, there’s a relationship between service and those kinds of wear-and-tear joint problems,” Kilpatrick said.

Of the nearly 700,000 U.S. military members involved in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Kilpatrick said, about 120,000 servicemembers returning from deployment in the Middle East reported a multitude of symptoms, including depression, tiredness, muscle and joint aches and pains, memory loss, headaches, and rashes. Servicemembers suffering from one or a combination of these maladies would later be said to have “Gulf War Illness.”

While 80 percent of those 120,000 veterans received a medical assessment and treatment for their ailments, about 24,000 veterans with Gulf War Illness-related symptoms remain undiagnosed, said Kilpatrick, a former Navy physician who commanded an Army/Navy infectious disease research unit during the Gulf War.

A congressionally-mandated report titled “Gulf War Illness and the Health of Gulf War Veterans” was released Nov. 17 and presented to Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. James Peake. The 400-plus-page report says Gulf War Illness is a genuine medical condition. The report also notes that pyridostigmine bromide pills taken by some servicemembers in theater as a prophylactic against nerve agents and the use of pesticides to ward off desert insects are possible causes of Gulf War Illness.

Kilpatrick said he disagrees with the report’s findings regarding causes of Gulf War Illness, especially the alleged role played by anti-nerve agent pills and pesticides. Previous tests had determined that the pills were safe for consumption by servicemembers, he said, and there’s no medical evidence that pesticide use was responsible for Gulf War Illness-related maladies.

Other reports conducted on Gulf War Illness over the years, he noted, failed to substantiate its existence or couldn’t provide medical evidence of possible causes.

Unlike today, the U.S. military did not conduct pre-deployment medical screenings of servicemembers during the Gulf War, Kilpatrick said. He suggested that some individuals reporting Gulf War Illness-related symptoms may have had pre-existing medical conditions before they deployed to the Gulf.

“I think if you take a look at chronic fatigue syndrome, where people are extremely tired even after a good night’s sleep; they’re lethargic, they may have some short-term memory loss, some muscle pain in joints,” Kilpatrick said. “That’s part of that syndrome.”

Gulf War Illness isn’t a mystery, Kilpatrick said, but it is “something we don’t understand, and we need to do more work.”

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