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thedrifter
12-01-08, 08:32 AM
Gulf War vets still face health struggles
By Kimberly Hefling - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Dec 1, 2008 6:55:48 EST

WASHINGTON — Ground combat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War lasted just 100 hours, but it’s meant 17 years of pain and anguish for hundreds of thousands of veterans.

Those who came home and complained of symptoms such as memory loss and joint pain are only sicker. Even as their lives unraveled as their health further deteriorated, many were told their problems were just in their head.

But, recently, many of the sufferers were given a new reason to hope. Earlier this month, a high-profile advisory panel to Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake affirmed previous research that a collection of symptoms commonly known as Gulf War illnesses are real and require treatment. The country has a “national obligation” to help them, the panel concluded.

The report, however, also noted a sad reality: Of the $340 million in government funds spent to research the topic, little has focused on finding treatments. And, researchers said, the estimated 175,000-210,000 Gulf veterans who are sick aren’t getting any better.

Many of those veterans are left wondering what’s next for them. The panel, created by Congress, said at least $60 million should be spent annually for research, but some veterans question if in these economically strapped times the money will be made available.

“I just hope that our elected officials pay attention to it and they accept that it is true,” said James Stutts, 60, of Berea, Ky., a retired Army lieutenant colonel and physician who struggles to walk and gave up practicing medicine because of memory problems after serving in the war. “It’s not a stress-related, nor is it a psychosomatic, issue. It is true. It is real. There is pain, not only for the veteran, but their families.”

The sad irony, said John Schwertfager, a veterans advocate in Ohio, is that many of the veterans who came home physically sick and were told wrongly it was a mental condition now struggle with real mental health problems after years of chronic pain and personal problems such as divorce and the inability to work.

“A slow, steady deterioration is what I’m seeing,” Schwertfager said.

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Paul Sullivan, a Gulf War veteran who helped lead the fight on Capitol Hill to get help for the veterans, said it wasn’t very long after the war ended that more and more veterans started complaining of symptoms such as fatigue, rashes, respiratory problems, diarrhea, headaches, muscle and joint pain, and nausea. When veterans wrote members of Congress, the lawmakers typically responded by contacting Pentagon officials who in turn wrote back saying there were no reports of chemical exposure, Sullivan said.

“They didn’t tell Congress that they weren’t looking,” Sullivan said.

Cost was a factor. A 100 percent disabled veteran today is entitled to about $30,000 annually, which could easily mean more than $1 million in payments to veterans who live decades longer.

Compounding the problem was the complexity of the symptoms and uncertainty over the causes. Were they caused by combat stress? Was it vaccinations? Was it pills given to protect soldiers from nerve agents? Was it exposure to oil well fires or chemical weapons? Or a combination of factors?

Meanwhile, veterans like Jim Bunker, 49, an Army captain in the war who is today president of the National Gulf War Veterans Research Center in Kansas City, Kan., recalled getting the wrong type of treatment at the VA.

“They were like it’s all psychological, it’s all in your head, here are some antidepressants,” said Bunker, who has severe headaches and has trouble walking, among other problems.

Since those early years, independent scientists have determined that the symptoms of the veterans do not constitute a single syndrome. They have pointed to pesticide, used to control insects, and pyridostigmine bromide pills, given to protect troops from nerve agents, as probable culprits for some of the symptoms.

Slowly, the veterans have made their case.

In 2001, after a government study determined that those who served in the Gulf War were nearly twice as likely to develop Lou Gehrig’s disease as other military personnel, the VA said it would immediately offer disability and survivor benefits to veterans with the disease who fought in the war.

The veterans scored a legislative victory in 1998 with the passage of legislation that created the advisory panel that made the recent recommendations. In 2004, acting on its recommendations, then-VA Secretary Anthony Principi said that the agency would no longer pay for studies that seek to show stress is the primary cause.

It’s not immediately clear whether Peake will act on the most recent recommendations. On Friday, he requested that the Institute of Medicine review them. Most likely, it will be up to the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama and the new Congress to decide what to do next.

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Since the panel’s recent report, Julie Mock, president of the Veterans of Modern Warfare, said her group’s e-mail inbox has been flooded with e-mails from Gulf War veterans hopeful that help could be on the way.

“Most of them are, ‘Thank God. Somebody’s finally fighting for us,”’ said Mock, a Gulf War veteran who has suffered from fatigue, rashes and headaches and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2003 that she thinks is related to her war service.

Mock said she hopes the panel’s recommendations will open the door for more Gulf War veterans to receive disability compensation.

Another organization, the Disabled American Veterans, is asking for more research for treatments. But it’s also urging the VA to immediately appoint a working group to begin defining the health problems afflicting the veterans as something other than “undiagnosed” with the hope that would open the door for more Gulf War veterans to obtain benefits and health care.

“We don’t want this to be studied to death,” said Thom Wilborn, a DAV spokesman. “This is going to be affecting people for the next 20 years because some people who don’t have it now may have it in the future.”

Still, some veterans worry that nothing will change.

“I’m very jaded now. It’s like, we’ve had our hopes up before. What makes this time different?” said Denise Nichols, a retired Air Force major who used to teach nursing but quit after the war because of memory problems.

Schwertfager, the Ohio advocate, said he’s hopeful Obama will help the veterans because he thinks members of Congress “will see the report and go, ‘That’s bad, that’s bad.’ They’ll issue a couple of press releases and, just like the past 17 years, it will be swept under the carpet nice and quietly.”

Stutts, the Kentucky physician, said some days he can’t get out of bed because of the pain, but he tries not to be bitter — even as he hopes that more help could some day be available.

“A lot of people have had it worse. They are now in Arlington cemetery. I can at least be thankful I’m still alive,” Stutts said.

Ellie

v8zracer260z
08-24-10, 08:16 PM
I have been running an uphill battle with chronic pain, fatique, and other issues for over 7 years now. I am currently only able to work 4 or less hours per day and still be able to function. i have had extensive tests done with the only result of Fibromyalgia diagnosis. I was told this is a presumptive disease related to my service in the Gulf War. I applied for dissability and was denied and service connection for this. I have appealed thier decision and am trying to set up meetings with my state representives in Florida for help. Any assistance would be appreciated. I am a proud marine and I am not looking for handouts just trying to provide for my family in the case I may no longer be able to work.

Big Jim
08-24-10, 09:29 PM
I have been running an uphill battle with chronic pain, fatique, and other issues for over 7 years now. I am currently only able to work 4 or less hours per day and still be able to function. i have had extensive tests done with the only result of Fibromyalgia diagnosis. I was told this is a presumptive disease related to my service in the Gulf War. I applied for dissability and was denied and service connection for this. I have appealed thier decision and am trying to set up meetings with my state representives in Florida for help. Any assistance would be appreciated. I am a proud marine and I am not looking for handouts just trying to provide for my family in the case I may no longer be able to work.

I know of whole-heartedly what you speak of.....first things first....get your illness diagnosed....even if its Gulf War Syndrome. That will suffice for most disability claims. If not... speak with your benefits rep there at the VA and ask them what you can do about all of this situation. Good luck, Marine...!!

v8zracer260z
08-25-10, 06:46 PM
Yeah thanks. I have been diagnosed both at the Washington DC VA hospital and the Malcom Randall VA in Gainesville, Fla with Fibromyalgia and was still denied a service connection disability. Were would I find the VA Benifits rep at my VA?
Semper FI!

Vise
08-25-10, 06:52 PM
How did you Marines acquire you illnesses? (Specifically)

v8zracer260z
08-25-10, 07:18 PM
That my friend is the golden goose, if we knew that we wouldn't have to fight this hard. The common belief is a reaction to Pyrostigmine bromide tablets for nerve gas, Anthrax shots, pesticide use, as well as the normal Malaria, Typhoid, ect, ect. They had never given all of these to troops at the same time and ther may have been a reaction between two or all of them or an eviromental condition causing it too. So who ever can find out the cause will make alot of us Gulf war vets very happy. If it was just a few complaining that would be one thing but over 30% of the troops deployed in the region have the same or very similar contions. I can assure you the pain I feel on a daily basis 24/7 is very real and very painfull and not psychosomatic.

Vise
08-25-10, 07:22 PM
That's a coincidence because Im reading Jarhead right now. So what would you say is the smarter thing to do, take the pill or not?

v8zracer260z
08-25-10, 07:37 PM
If I had it to do over I would not take them. Of course that would expose you to a Sarin gas attack so it would depend on where you are deployed and the apparent risk with that location.

Big Jim
08-25-10, 07:39 PM
Yeah thanks. I have been diagnosed both at the Washington DC VA hospital and the Malcom Randall VA in Gainesville, Fla with Fibromyalgia and was still denied a service connection disability. Were would I find the VA Benifits rep at my VA?
Semper FI!

Call the VA and ask them if they have one or not....most of them outpatient clinics do have one or more. That person should help you file a claim attaining you that diagnosis or at least get you some help for the issues you been having. I hope this helped brother.....

v8zracer260z
08-25-10, 07:54 PM
Thanks Jim I have already filed a claim but was denied and now have to file an appeal their decision. I'll try to find the Benifits rep tomorrow at he VA.

hbharrison
08-25-10, 09:03 PM
Yeah thanks. I have been diagnosed both at the Washington DC VA hospital and the Malcom Randall VA in Gainesville, Fla with Fibromyalgia and was still denied a service connection disability. Were would I find the VA Benifits rep at my VA?
Semper FI!

Been there done that go to the VFW Rep or the American Ligion Rep they have all the paper work on computer and the VA does not give them much crap on it they also know wich way to go if they denie the claim. Good luck Marine and do not give up.

v8zracer260z
08-25-10, 09:34 PM
Thanks I forgot about going to the VFW too.

Quinbo
08-25-10, 11:40 PM
Not only did they pump us full of a pharmacy but as my medical record states ... exposed to extremely high levels of sulfer containing smoke from burning oil wells.

To you Vise: Jarhead was a movie. Don't go swimming in the ocean if you have watched the movie jaws. The stuff supposedly administered in the movie was C-Pro.

spotts
08-26-10, 06:43 AM
Definitely go to the VFW or American legion and fill out VA Form 21-22. This authorizes them to act as your representative. They will walk you through the appeals process and help you with the other paperwork needed.

Big Jim
08-27-10, 10:05 AM
Thanks Jim I have already filed a claim but was denied and now have to file an appeal their decision. I'll try to find the Benifits rep tomorrow at he VA.

Yes....if you go to one of the VFW or American Legion places they will definitely help you file your claims...and if you have been denied already it might help you to apply for a hearing to the Board of Appeals...I am told they are much more "user friendly" and sympathetic than the raters where ever you may be....

v8zracer260z
08-29-10, 12:38 AM
Thanks guys!