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Evaluations Find No Single Cause for Gulf War Ills

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 9, 1996 – After evaluating more than 18,000 Gulf War veterans who reported illnesses following service in the Middle East, the Pentagon said there's still no evidence of a singular cause.

"When you send young people into an extremely stressful and dangerous environment, some will come home with physical and psychological ailments," said Dr. Stephen Joseph, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "We've seen a complex mosaic of diseases and conditions, but not apparent is a unique, mysterious, overriding cause."

Joseph was updating the press on the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program, launched by DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1994. More than 21,000 veterans registered in the program and applied for examinations. Most commonly, they reported joint pain, fatigue, headaches and memory loss, and other symptoms that cannot be specifically attributed to service in the Persian Gulf, Joseph said.

In addition, some veterans and their family members reported reproductive problems.

"We will do additional studies of reproductive risks from environmental exposures," Joseph said, but "all research to date has found no evidence of increased reproductive problems for Gulf War veteran families."

The vast majority of evaluation program participants -- active-duty service members or their families -- haven't missed much work because of their illnesses. "Severe disability is not a common feature," Joseph said.

Investigators categorized at least 18 percent of reported illnesses as psychological conditions, including tension headaches, anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse.

In the past, some groups decried DoD's handling of clinical investigations, but an outside watchdog organization gives this investigation high marks.

The Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program "is a compassionate and comprehensive effort to address the clinical needs of thousands of active-duty personnel who served in the Persian Gulf War," the Institute of Medicine reported. DoD asked the institute to form a panel of experts in various medical disciplines to monitor the program.

In its latest report, the institute said DoD should emphasize psychological stresses can produce effects as real and devastating as physical stresses.

Joseph agrees. "[These] are real symptoms and illnesses, with real consequences," he said. "We will not close the door to treatment and continued investigations."

Joseph said veterans and others should have full access to data on the reported illnesses. He said the government will declassify these records by Dec. 31 and make them accessible through the Internet.

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