Vet Affairs agency looking for volunteers to study Gulf War Syndrome

Veterans Affairs officials will launch a new five-year study into Gulf War Syndrome in an effort to better define and explain the symptoms for the mysterious illness.

It’s a move that veterans groups say is overdue but also potentially beneficial to tens of thousands of Gulf War veterans. As many as 250,000 individuals who served in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s have reported a series of problems including joint pain, fatigue, rashes, memory issues and digestive problems, with no clear cause.

The new study — a partnership with the National Institutes of Health — will involve about 75 veterans who agreed to be monitored at federal health facilities for two weeks. The goal is to “look at multiple body systems affected by Gulf War Illness and how these systems operate.”

The causes of the illness have been under debate for more than three decades. Last year, a study by University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researchers asserted that exposure to sarin gas — released into the atmosphere when Iraqi chemical weapons caches were bombed during the conflict — were to blame for the myriad symptoms.

But federal officials have not accepted those findings as fact, and veterans who file disability claims based on Gulf War Illness symptoms face numerous paperwork challenges to prove a connection between their time in service and failing health.

Shane Liermann, deputy national legislative director at Disabled American Veterans, called the new study “significant” in potentially outlining clearer guidelines for filing those claims and seeking medical treatment for the illness.

The move also comes nine months after President Joe Biden signed into law the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, better known as the PACT Act. The legislation provides presumptive benefits for a host of unusual illnesses connected to burn pit exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan, Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam and radiation exposure at various military sites in the 1960s and 1970s.

The law also reforms how VA handles other toxic exposure claims, with the goal of easing bureaucratic rules for recognizing new illnesses for medical care or disability payouts.

“This collaboration will bring together experts who will meticulously investigate the underlying causes of Gulf War Illness symptoms,” VA Chief Research and Development Officer Rachel Ramoni said in a statement. “With the help of the veterans who volunteer for the study, researchers will lay the groundwork for care that will meaningfully improve the lives of the hundreds of thousands of veterans living with this disease.”

Information on how to volunteer for the study is available through the NIH website.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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