2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 21 Jan 2003 20:20:23 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] U.S. Acts to Avert Gulf War Malady
U.S. Acts to Avert Gulf War Malady
Military Readies Medical Tracking System and Better Sensors
By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 21, 2003; Page A01

As it lays the groundwork for another war with Iraq, the U.S military is
engaged in a massive effort to prevent the reappearance of Gulf War

Over the decade that followed the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict, the
chronic illnesses that tens of thousands of veterans described
ultimately marred the U.S. victory. The agonizing investigation of what
came to be known as Gulf War syndrome eroded trust in the military, cost
hundreds of millions of dollars and consumed thousands of years of human

As American troops prepare to face the same enemy in the same place,
military planners hope that this time they can keep the perplexing
phenomenon at bay. Their weapons include health questionnaires,
epidemiological studies, a powerful computer system, soil-sampling kits,
a new generation of detectors for nerve gas and biological threats, and
millions of tubes of human serum stored at 25 degrees below zero.

"Is a replay a concern? The answer is definitely yes," said Col. Robert
F. DeFraites, an Army epidemiologist who investigated the first vague
physical complaints that Gulf War veterans reported 10 years ago this
spring. "I think we feel it could come back again."

It is not too much to say that the experience of Gulf War syndrome in a
small way is remaking the art of modern warfare. The damage and
confusion it wreaked have created a new world of things for commanders
to worry about. No longer is it enough to bring well-trained fighters to
a place where they can engage the enemy. Now, the military is determined
to document each soldier's sense of his own health, counsel him on what
to fear beyond bullets and bombs, and test the air he breathes and the
soil below his billet.

"Our focus used to be only on winning the battle, and that still is the
focus," said Lt. Col. Karl Friedl, director of operational medical
research for the Army. "But now there's this greatly increased attention
on post-deployment health. We didn't use to think about that."

The sheer number of people complaining of illness after the Gulf War
helped change that view. Perhaps as many as 160,000 of the nearly
700,000 men and women who served in Operation Desert Storm may have
suffered lingering physical symptoms in its aftermath. Over a decade,
the government funded 224 research projects, costing $213 million, to
try to uncover the cause, extent and best treatment for the illness.

The investigation has taken so long partly because so many questions
raised by veterans could not be answered. Were all the chemical weapons
alarms that sounded on or near the battlefield false alarms? Were toxic
chemicals in the ground and air? Who received the anthrax vaccine? Where
were troops on particular days? What was the physical and mental state
of the soldiers before they shipped out?

The military's inability to give clear answers to these and many other
questions, while understandable to some observers, fueled the belief
that horrible events may have occurred during the war, and might have
been averted.

In the end, however, military health officials and most civilian
researchers who studied the subject do not believe anything unusual or
undiscovered occurred in the Gulf War to cause chronic illness. This
time, the military is determined to begin and conclude the conflict with
much better information.

The preventive medicine machine that will roll into battle with U.S.
soldiers if war erupts serves two purposes. The first is to monitor and
mitigate actual threats to health. The second is to collect data that
will allow everyone from the secretary of defense to doctors to better
answer the questions from veterans after this or other deployments.

Perhaps the most widespread belief among those with Gulf War syndrome is
that they encountered toxic substances during the conflict that later
made them ill. While most scenarios were implausible, this did not keep
the military from coming under withering criticism by Congress, panels
of experts and the media for not knowing enough about the battlefield
environment, and who was in it.

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