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A Blog by Gary Wright II

Gulf War Syndrome and our veterans

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I often get asked if my disability is related to Gulf War Syndrome, and it isn't. I suffer from a myopathy (muscle disease) that is genetic in nature. I always use the opportunity to explain that, by strict definition, there really is no such thing as "Gulf War Syndrome."

Syndrome vs. Illness - The illness suffered by our Gulf War Era veterans technically CAN NOT be classified as a syndrome. The word from Latin means "to run together" and to be a syndrome, the symptoms must meet two requirements: The symptoms must be clearly identifiable, and they must be consistent from patient to patient. Not being a true syndrome, however, does not mean that this isn't a real and very serious illness.

Is it all in their head? No, it isn't a psychosomatic illness. I do believe that all of our veterans, to some degree, suffer from mental issues. In the first two world wars they called it shell shock. In Vietnam, they gave it the label of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can often be identified by what veterans call "the 100 yard stare." There is something about the eyes that changes whenever a person kills other people. It is important to note that you do not necessarily have to be a combat veteran in order to suffer from this disorder.

What causes the Gulf War illness? That is a topic of much debate. For many years, our government even denied it's existence. A lot of people have a lot of theories about the origin, but I think many theories can be dismissed based on the existing data and with a little bit of common sense.

First, the illness exists in both the military and in civilians who went to Iraq. The fact that it isn't just the military allows us to dispose of many theories of origin. Whatever agent causes it must have had widespread exposure to lots of people. That leads me to believe that it was something in the atmosphere.

Is it exposure to depleted uranium (DU)? I don't think so, because I've personally shot thousands of rounds of depleted uranium. If DU was the cause, you would expect all of the DU munition handlers to have a much higher rate of the illness. After DU exposure, the element shows up in the bones and in many organ tissues. The data does not agree with the theory of radiation from direct exposure to the depleted uranium.

Notice that I qualified that last statement with the phrase "direct exposure to depleted uranium." One theory on DU, which does make sense, is that the radioactive particles emitted by the explosions of depleted uranium ammunition were aspirated (breathed in) by those exposed to the toxic atmosphere. Some forms of radiation can be easily blocked (alpha waves), while other forms of radiation will pass through nearly anything (gamma or high frequency / short waves). Gamma ray exposure is usually obvious, but you have to look closely for the evidence of alpha ray exposure. Since alpha rays are easily blocked, many have dismissed the theory of alpha radiation as the cause. They have not, however, adequately studied the inhalation of alpha particles as a root cause. The chromosome damage seen in the Gulf War ill is showing up in birth defects of their offspring. This would be consistent with cell damage due to radiation.

There is no dispute about the toxicity of the modern battle field, but smoke exposure from oil well fires have been ruled out. Sarin exposure was common to those in Iraq, but the symptoms are different from those with the Gulf War illness. Immunizations are not a likely cause because veterans are sick that never received the vaccinations in question.

Don't we have gas masks for that? Our troops are equipped with gas masks and protective equipment from chemical, radiological, and biological agents, but it is very difficult to perform any work while wearing all of this equipment. Many suffer from heat stress in the climate of Iraq, and it is way too hot to be inside of these suits for more than an hour at a time. The troops are also equipped with electronic detectors, but there were so many chemicals in the air that the alarms went off all of the time. It didn't take long until all of the sensors were simply turned off.

Can the battlefield be decontaminated? Yes, but not during the heat of battle. The nature of warfare dictates that you must first capture the ground before you can safely decontaminate it.

Can it be prevented? Yes. As the military has now developed autonomous vehicles for every theatre of war (land, sea, air, and space), it will soon no longer be necessary to send humans into battle. Future wars can be fought solely by unmanned vehicles and robotics. That is why the greatest threat to our country is the current state of our economy. It takes lots of money to continuously improve on technology, and it also takes lots of smart people. That is why the failure of our education system is also a huge threat to our nation. Neither problem can be fixed overnight, which is why we better start worrying about it right now.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the Gulf War illness. We can only minimize the suffering by treating some of the symptoms. Our government owes our veterans a big apology, because for so many years they not only ignored the illness, they treated our veterans as if they were making the whole thing up. It's pretty hard to fake chromosome damage and the horrible side effects of this illness. I think it is important for all of our citizens to realize that so many veterans have lost their lives - and not just those who died in battle. Many will suffer for the rest of their lives, as well as their children who are being born with birth defects directly related to Gulf War illness.

We must never forget the sacrifices made by our brave men and women.

-- Gary Wright II

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