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Veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War are not getting the treatment they deserve from the federal government, according to the chairman of a Veterans Affairs Department research advisory committee.
“Gulf War illnesses remain a major unmet veterans’ health problem,” said James Binns, chairman of the VA’s research advisory committee on Gulf War veterans’ illnesses.
He testified along with several Gulf War veterans before the House Veterans’ Affairs health subcommittee.
Binns said Gulf War veterans who feel they are being ignored may have a point. “Hundreds of millions of dollars have been appropriated to address the health problems of currently returning veterans, and rightly so,” he said. “But it is now time, in fact long past time, to address the serious health problems of 175,000 veterans of the last war who remain ill as a result of their service.”
Sixteen years after Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, Binns said serious health problems continue, and most of the money spent on research has been wasted.
“One in four of those who served — 175,000 veterans — remain seriously ill, and there are currently no effective treatments,” he said, referring to the multi-symptom illness commonly known as Gulf War syndrome.
About $300 million has been spent on research, but much of that research has focused on whether illnesses were the result of psychological stress, he said. “Very little money was invested in treatment research,” Binns said.
Lea Steele, the research advisory committee’s scientific director, said studies have found no link between combat stress and Gulf War illnesses and, more troubling, studies have found that those suffering are not getting better.
“Few veterans with Gulf War illnesses have recovered or even substantially improved over time,” Steele said. “As a result, many Gulf War veterans have been sick for as long as 16 years.”
Army veteran Anthony Hardie, who says he continues to suffer from the so-called “Kuwait cough” that started after he breathed in the smoke from oil fires during the Gulf War, said many veterans are giving up on VA.
“I have heard from countless other Gulf War veterans who, like many Vietnam veterans before them, have stopped going to the VA or have simply given up and have done their best to adapt to the substantial lifestyle changes required by their disabilities,” Hardie said.
Hardie said VA is still seeing Gulf War veterans who have undiagnosed problems, but “being seen is not the same thing as being treated.”