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Gulf War Syndrome

Many veterans receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or veteran's disability benefits for Gulf War Syndrome, which afflicts an estimated 200,000 military veterans.

A study published Monday by The Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed "66 chronically ill veterans and 34 healthy veterans who, together, constitute a scientific representation of the 700,000 veterans who served during the first Gulf War in 1990 and 1991" and concluded Gulf War Syndrome is a real condition and it can cause severe damage to a soldier's nervous system.

In this study, Dr. Robert Haley, an epidemiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, found that the illness, which is generally referred to as Gulf War Syndrome, is an actual physical disorder and is not simply a reaction to fighting. Physical symptoms of the disorder, according to the study, include "nerve damage that affects breathing, heart rate, sexual function, and excessive perspiration."

The hope of the research team is that more information about this debilitating condition will be found and read by the doctors treating these soldiers. Many times soldiers are told that there is nothing wrong with them and that the condition is "in their head." Haley and his team hope that "the physicians treating our veterans will read this study and recognize the symptoms, and that this will lead to better treatments."

Experts have differing opinions on the cause of Gulf War Syndrome, but Haley and his team believe the condition is caused by exposure to chemicals and pesticides in the Persian Gulf. Other medical experts argue that it is likely cause by anti-nerve agents such as pyridostigmine bromide.

The bottom line is that it doesn't really matter what caused it. The goal is to make sure our soldiers, who have this condition, get the proper treatment. Historically, many soldiers returned home complaining about conditions such as memory loss, trouble breathing, sleep difficulties and excessive perspiration and some doctors chalked the complaints up to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. While this allowed soldiers to get disability benefits it did not help them get proper treatment for their condition.

Medical experts agree there is enough evidence to suggest the condition is real and veterans are sick, but groups such as Veterans for Common Sense in Austin, headed by Gulf War veteran Paul Sullivan, is still fighting for additional federal funds to complete more research.

Some argue, however, that the Federal Government has already made the condition a priority by spending an estimated $350 million on 345 projects related to Gulf War veteran health care needs between 1992 and 2007. Critics of this spending argue that not enough has been done to actually determine the cause and began developing effective treatments to help soldiers.

Because real-world stress can cause anatomic, physiological and chemical changes in the body and in a veterans mental health, which can cause mental health disorders, it may be tough for researchers to identify exactly what caused Gulf War Syndrome. Haley and his team, however, are determined to find real solutions for soldiers. In the meantime, the Federal Government does offer SSDI or SSI benefits to disabled veterans who are unable to work due to a Gulf War illness.

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