Treat Military Veterans, Not Syndrome


VA should focus on meeting medical needs of former soldiers

While the precise nature of illnesses among veterans of the Gulf War remains unclear, one certainty is that the veterans who have medical needs deserve treatment.

A formal study conducted by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences that contracted with the Veterans Administration, looked extensively at symptoms of illnesses reported by soldiers who served in the 1991 Iraq conflict. While those symptoms have unofficially been known for years as “Gulf War syndrome,” the report found no information sufficient to declare that a Gulf War syndrome exists.

That conclusion, however, doesn’t mean the questions should cease, because the illnesses have been real.

Almost 30 percent of those who served in the 1991 war have experienced symptoms such as fatigue, memory loss, muscle pain, joint pain, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness. Many have experienced a combination of those problems. So the questions about a possible link that could be traced directly to events in Iraq in 1991 have been legitimate…


For years, the government shrugged off the reports of illness. It shouldn’t have taken so long to seriously address the problem. But just because the VA study now dispels the theory of a definitive single illness to explain the symptoms, it shouldn’t stop the search for medical answers for those veterans and their families.

War affects soldiers because they are human beings, larger than life though they seem. What used to be dismissed with terms like shellshock has finally begun to be taken more seriously. Scientists are still learning about post-traumatic stress disorder. The vagueness of symptoms like fatigue and memory loss makes the Gulf War issue more problematic. But supporting the troops shouldn’t end when the fighting does. Veterans Administration officials may not have a one-size-fits-all explanation for the Gulf War illnesses, but they still have a lot of illnesses that need attention.


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