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[casi] Kay Bailey Hutchison Uncovering the mysteries of Gulf War Syndrome

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Uncovering the mysteries of Gulf War Syndrome
By Kay Bailey Hutchison

As our nation's armed forces gear up for the prospect of a conflict in the
Persian Gulf, the safety and security of our men and women in uniform is of
utmost concern. In any conflict human lives are at risk, yet the Middle East
poses a more insidious threat to America's sons and daughters. It has been
more than a decade since the United States sent troops to free Kuwait from
the iron fist of Saddam Hussein. Yet while the war has become a chapter in
American history books, scores of veterans are still fighting battles that
should have ended with our withdrawal from the region. We owe it to our
soldiers to unravel the mystery of Gulf War illnesses that have plagued
veterans of Operation Desert Storm and protect tomorrow's veterans from a
similar fate. For too long, the unexplained health problems of Gulf War
veterans were sidelined by politics and indifference. Medical professionals
from the Department of Defense debated whether Gulf War Syndrome even exists,
and previous Pentagon officials tried to block congressional funding for
research into the illness. Blaming symptoms on post-traumatic stress, the
Department refused to address the obvious medical maladies plaguing our
veterans. Imagine the frustration of one Gulf War veteran so severely
debilitated that he can hardly walk across his bedroom unaided when, only a
couple of years prior to his deployment, he completed the New York City
Marathon in under three hours. Imagine his further anxiety when told his
condition was "all in your head." Unfortunately, thousands of our Gulf War
veterans have similar devastating and inexplicable ailments. Of the 700,000
U.S. military personnel who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert
Storm, between 100,000 and 300,000 have demonstrated a complex array of
symptoms, from irritated skin conditions to debilitating diseases such as Lou
Gehrig's disease. Our soldiers were exposed to a veritable witch's brew of
known and potential health hazards in the Gulf War: toxic smoke and fumes
from oil well fires, petroleum fuels and their combustion products,
low-levels of chemical and biologic warfare agents, depleted uranium, nerve
agent medications - this disturbing list goes on and on. But now our veterans
- and our active duty soldiers serving in the Gulf region - have hope. The
Veterans Administration (VA) recently announced a plan of action for
exploring the root causes of Gulf War illnesses. This plan is key to
providing answers to thousands of soldiers afflicted with these ailments and
protecting our soldiers who face the prospect of returning to the Middle
East. Dr. Robert Haley, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas
Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, was the first to study a group of Gulf
War veterans and uncover compelling evidence of damage to deep brain
structures as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals. These findings helped
dispel the myth that this syndrome was merely psychological and helped
establish the foundation for the VA's new plan. He also found that among
those who suffer from Gulf War Syndrome, most have a low level of peroxinase,
which is the enzyme in the blood that blocks nerve gas. This helps explain
why some service members are exposed and not affected while others suffer
from Gulf War Syndrome. This information is critical because it may enable us
to keep soldiers with similar genetic makeup out of harm's way, or eventually
find a remedy for this enzyme deficiency. With this initiative, the VA has
rightly and boldly abandoned the long-held misconception that stress and
psychological reaction alone perpetuate these horrific symptoms. It calls for
the exploration of the neurologic basis of Gulf War illnesses; expands the
number of veterans tested; doubles the VA's research budget to $20 million
through 2004; and establishes a VA center for state-of-the-art medical
imaging, such as CAT scans and MRIs. Less than one year ago, Secretary of
Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi formed a Veterans Administration Gulf War
Research Review Advisory Committee, of which Dr. Haley is a member. This
dedicated group of physicians and scientists has been making some truly
remarkable discoveries that will help address the medical problems facing
these Gulf War veterans. Before we send our troops back into harm's way, we
must do everything we can to protect them. The Department of Defense and the
VA have taken important steps in this regard, and must continue to
acknowledge, treat and protect our ailing veterans. We owe it to them, and we
owe it to those who are waiting in the wings to return to Baghdad. 
Copyright 2003 by North Texas e-News, llc

Roger Stroope
Austin College
Sherman Texas, USA

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