A massive government study of more than 10,000 veterans of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 has found no evidence of any kind of mysterious “gulf war disease” despite claims by some that they are suffering from severe symptoms, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
Dr. Stephen Joseph, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the yearlong investigation showed the symptoms from which Persian Gulf War veterans are suffering almost invariably involve “multiple” diseases that do not stem from any one cause.
Moreover, he said, the incidence of such symptoms is about the same as that ordinarily found in the general population - suggesting that the veterans are no worse off as a group than their counterparts in civilian life.
“The people … with these complaints are suffering from those symptoms,” but they are not caused by any one illness, Joseph told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon. “There is not … a single mystery illness or unique gulf war illness.”
The wide-ranging probe, which officials described as “definitive,” reinforced earlier studies that were conducted among smaller groups of veterans. Besides concluding there is no “gulf war disease,” it also denied claims that the symptoms stem from chemical agents or gas.
However, the report immediately was denounced by some gulf war veterans groups, some of which have suggested that the Pentagon may be trying to cover up evidence of a mystery disease, possibly stemming from chemical or gas attacks by Iraqi troops.
Richard H. Haines, president of Gulf Veterans International, the New Albany, Ind.-based group that first raised the issue, dismissed the report as “a continued misrepresentation of the medical reality.
“What they haven’t said is that the average vet has 30 to 40 of these symptoms,” Haines asserted. “We consider it preposterous that able-bodied, combat-ready soldiers … would suddenly incur 20 or 30 (such) ailments and that this would happen to tens of thousands.”
The veterans groups’ mistrust of the government’s assertions has taken on the intensity of the long-standing fight over the Defense Department’s handling of those declared missing in action during the Vietnam War.
Many of the veterans who were deployed in the Persian Gulf region have reported fatigue, joint pain, headaches, sleep disturbances and depression, and a few have contended that these symptoms have spread to their spouses and to newborn children.
There are no definitive figures on how many Persian Gulf veterans are suffering from such symptoms. Of the 697,000 deployed to the region during the 1990-91 war, some 23,000 of them have enrolled in the Pentagon’s research program; 17,000 of these have requested examinations.
But a series of government investigations - including one made public last December on an initial list of some 1,019 Persian Gulf War veterans - has concluded that despite the veterans’ complaints, physicians can find no evidence of a gulf war disease or syndrome.
Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, D-Mass., who has pressed the issue in Congress on behalf of the veterans, said the Pentagon still had not addressed the issue squarely.
“The Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration should not think this battle is over,” he said after the report was issued.