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Gulf War Vets Home Page

Iraq War showing more traditional illnesses
http://www.theunionleader.com/articles_showa.html?article=53157  (ORIGINAL ARTICLE)
By PAT HAMMOND
Sunday News Staff


MANCHESTER — Early assessments of the health of Iraq War veterans have led a local specialist on Gulf War illness to conclude that servicemen in Iraq are not contracting the illness that struck thousands of service personnel in the Persian Gulf War. But some medical experts say the optimistic outlook may be premature.

The approximately 50 Iraq veterans seen by Dr. Victor Gordan at the Veterans Administration Hospital here display the injuries you would expect from a war — trauma to the backs, knees, shoulders. Several showed signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but none, he said, “presented any of the weird illnesses we saw from the Gulf War.

“They went through broadside bombing, ambushes, suicide bombing. Two or three were shot at,” Gordan said. “They were not too interested in seeing a doctor.

“This lack of Gulf War illness type symptoms, to me, is proof that the Gulf War illness was induced by environmental hazards,” said Gordan, who has treated more than 800 patients who returned from the 1991 Gulf War with unexplained symptoms and still treats many of them.

Gordan said the lack of symptoms of Gulf War illness supports what he has believed all along: that the illness predominant in veterans of that was generated by environmental hazards such as burning oilfields, gaseous substances emanating from exploded Scud missiles, and exposure to nerve agents and other weapons of chemical warfare.

But Lt. Col. (Dr.) Stephen Phillips, an Army doctor who was in the Gulf War and now serves at the Pentagon, told the Sunday News he thought it was too early to deduce that there will be no incidence of Gulf War Illness in the war in Iraq.

The 50 men and women from the Iraq War visited Gordan because they were seeking war-related disability benefits, not to be treated for them, Gordan said. While they were there he encouraged them to register in the Persian Gulf Operation Iraqi Freedom Registry, he said.

Registration is not required, but Gordan said it’s the smart thing to do. If at a later time one of the veterans discovers he may have developed other wartime injuries such as the collection of symptoms known as Gulf War illness, he would already be in the system.

The register was originally set up for Vietnam veterans, particularly those who sustained health disorders as a consequence of exposure to Agent Orange, and has continued through all subsequent wars. The statistics are computerized in Austin, Texas, and made available to Congress, Gordan said.

“It’s the best system for finding out the status of the veterans when they come back from war,” Gordan said. “I have found it unbelievably helpful. We, in the VA system, can’t force them to sign in but we are urging everybody to sign whether they have health problems or not, because a war experience could have a delayed effect, even up to 10 or 15 years.”

“In the Gulf War,” Gordan said, “I was overwhelmed by the numbers of veterans seeking medical help. They wanted to see a doctor about those painful symptoms. They didn’t know what was going on. Now there is a high no-show. My interpretation has to be they (the Iraq war veterans) feel healthy, so they think, ‘Why should I bother to see a doctor?’”

Lt. Col. Phillips was deployed to the Gulf War in the early 1990s to provide medical services to the troops. “And so I had a vested interest in a lot of the post-war activities,” he said.

Phillips said 1995 was his busiest year working with people with Gulf War illnesses. “That’s four years after their exposure,” he said.”

That’s why,” Phillips said, “while I am pleased to hear of Dr. Gordan’s personal experience, it may be a little early to tell. The whole phenomenon of unexplained illness in Gulf War veterans took a few years to peak and get a little attention.”

Responding to Phillips’ observation, Gordan said the first indications of Gulf War illness took place in September 1991; the war began in January of that year. “It only took a few months,” Gordan said.

“My experience is that those things started showing several months after the beginning of the Gulf War,” Gordan said. “We will keep an eye on these guys (Iraq war veterans), have them enroll in the registry, and see what happens.”

From a medical perspective, Phillips said, “it is likely we will have soldiers returning who will have unexplained physical symptoms. Following most of the major conflicts in the United States there was a subset of men whose illnesses did not fit the model.

“I personally believe,” Phillips said, “we are going to see some who have unexplained symptoms, but we are doing different things with the returning members and I think we will be way ahead of the Gulf War experience.”

The Department of Defense used the Gulf War health experience to develop protective clothing and devices to protect against potential environmental hazards and to set up a pre- and post-deployment data system on each soldier’s health and provided each unit with a health officer, among other things.

Paul Perrone, a veteran of the Gulf War, has written about trying to get the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense to pay attention to the illness he contracted in Saudi Arabia and his needs in his book, “Toy Soldier: Sergeant Perrone’s Story,” which serves as a guide to other servicemen seeking help from the government for their Gulf War Illnesses.

Perrone, who lives in southern New Hampshire, concurs with Gordan’s perception that Iraq War personnel will not be suffering from Gulf War illness, but for a different reason. But his own symptoms trace back to January 1991.

“I have not heard of a Gulf War Syndrome-type illness with these new veterans,” Perrone told the Sunday News. “In the 1991 Gulf War, cases of the so-called Gulf War Syndrome started appearing as early as January 1991. That’s when I personally showed symptoms. The illness left me 100 percent disabled after only two years.

“I see no reason to believe we will have another outbreak,” the former Air Force law enforcement officer said. “I am confident we would be seeing symptoms appearing by now. In 1991 we had bleeding gums, rashes, hair loss, optic neuritis, joint pain and swelling, seizures. I have heard of none of this with these new veterans.”

Many veterans, Perrone included, have blamed their Gulf War illness on the anthrax vaccine administered to them before and during their Gulf War deployment. Perrone testified twice before Congress.

“But we are no longer using the same vaccine so my opinion obviously is we will not see the same type of illness in the Iraq war,” Perrone said.

But the war illness controversy continues. Joyce Riley, a nurse during the Gulf War who contracted Gulf War Illness herself, challenges Gordan’s perception that the military personnel in Iraq are not developing signs of Gulf War Illness. An advocate for servicemen and women whose Gulf War service was followed by unexplained illness, Riley founded the Missouri-based American Gulf War Veterans Association to provide a place where GWI sufferers could turn for help.

Now she says that in addition to helping the Gulf War veterans she is receiving similar requests from veterans of the war in Iraq.

“I have been inundated with phone calls — maybe 100 in the last six months — from sick troops and their family members. The troops are scared to death to speak out because many of them have to go back to Iraq,” Riley said.

“They’ve got respiratory problems compromising their systems,” said Riley who acknowledges that although she was a wartime nurse she hasn’t personally examined the people who telephone her with their problems.

But a conversation with Lt. Col. Phillips, the Gulf War doctor, projects a different picture (from Riley’s) of Defense Department attitude toward men and women reporting wartime illness.

“After the Gulf War,” Phillips said, “the emphasis was on returning them to their military and civilian lives and not on longer-term health effects. But we are realizing we probably didn’t do as well as we should have in checking folks after they came home.

“So we now administer post-deployment assessments. We’re asking everybody, with formal questionnaires, ‘How are you doing?’

“We are trying to force the situation so that everybody who comes home gets a chance to declare for the record if they are having health problems,” Phillips said. “We ask if they were exposed to anything that could relate to their health or mental health. This gives everybody a chance to say, ‘I have an issue.’

“We need to make sure we do justice by their health care in post-deployment,” Phillips said.

But, Phillips continued, “The kinds of symptoms that have come to be associated with so-called Gulf War illnesses — the problem is this happens in the civilian sector as well. We have not been able to say this is unique to the military environment.

“But we are still open to the possibility there are some specific things about deployment that aggravate these things,” Phillips said, “so eventually people report these kinds of symptoms.”

Gordan cited a February 2005 article, “Smoke, Mirrors and the Gulf War,” by Martin Beahl in the English medical journal “Lancet” that said, Gordan paraphrased, “that we are already seeing health problems emerging in the Iraq War veterans, but those problems are more conventional and not puzzling problems like what we saw in the first Gulf War.

“Probably,” Gordan continued, “this is because this Iraq war is more conventional . . . meaning there were no burning fields, fallout from Scud missiles exploding in the air, destruction of weapons bunkers where chemical weapons were stashed, nerve agents, or exposure to depleted uranium.

“So many environmental hazards the servicemen were exposed to in the last war are not present in this war,” Gordan quoted.

Gordan also notes that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, responding in 2002 to his department’s desire to understand whether the Gulf War veterans’ medical complaints were legitimate and what caused them, formed an advisory panel. In October 2004, the panel concluded that the Gulf War illnesses were not results of war stress but of exposure to nerve agents and other environmental hazards present in the Gulf war region.


MANCHESTER — Early assessments of the health of Iraq War veterans have led a local specialist on Gulf War illness to conclude that servicemen in Iraq are not contracting the illness that struck thousands of service personnel in the Persian Gulf War. But some medical experts say the optimistic outlook may be premature.

The approximately 50 Iraq veterans seen by Dr. Victor Gordan at the Veterans Administration Hospital here display the injuries you would expect from a war — trauma to the backs, knees, shoulders. Several showed signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but none, he said, “presented any of the weird illnesses we saw from the Gulf War.

“They went through broadside bombing, ambushes, suicide bombing. Two or three were shot at,” Gordan said. “They were not too interested in seeing a doctor.

“This lack of Gulf War illness type symptoms, to me, is proof that the Gulf War illness was induced by environmental hazards,” said Gordan, who has treated more than 800 patients who returned from the 1991 Gulf War with unexplained symptoms and still treats many of them.

Gordan said the lack of symptoms of Gulf War illness supports what he has believed all along: that the illness predominant in veterans of that was generated by environmental hazards such as burning oilfields, gaseous substances emanating from exploded Scud missiles, and exposure to nerve agents and other weapons of chemical warfare.

But Lt. Col. (Dr.) Stephen Phillips, an Army doctor who was in the Gulf War and now serves at the Pentagon, told the Sunday News he thought it was too early to deduce that there will be no incidence of Gulf War Illness in the war in Iraq.

The 50 men and women from the Iraq War visited Gordan because they were seeking war-related disability benefits, not to be treated for them, Gordan said. While they were there he encouraged them to register in the Persian Gulf Operation Iraqi Freedom Registry, he said.

Registration is not required, but Gordan said it’s the smart thing to do. If at a later time one of the veterans discovers he may have developed other wartime injuries such as the collection of symptoms known as Gulf War illness, he would already be in the system.

The register was originally set up for Vietnam veterans, particularly those who sustained health disorders as a consequence of exposure to Agent Orange, and has continued through all subsequent wars. The statistics are computerized in Austin, Texas, and made available to Congress, Gordan said.

“It’s the best system for finding out the status of the veterans when they come back from war,” Gordan said. “I have found it unbelievably helpful. We, in the VA system, can’t force them to sign in but we are urging everybody to sign whether they have health problems or not, because a war experience could have a delayed effect, even up to 10 or 15 years.”

“In the Gulf War,” Gordan said, “I was overwhelmed by the numbers of veterans seeking medical help. They wanted to see a doctor about those painful symptoms. They didn’t know what was going on. Now there is a high no-show. My interpretation has to be they (the Iraq war veterans) feel healthy, so they think, ‘Why should I bother to see a doctor?’”

Lt. Col. Phillips was deployed to the Gulf War in the early 1990s to provide medical services to the troops. “And so I had a vested interest in a lot of the post-war activities,” he said.

Phillips said 1995 was his busiest year working with people with Gulf War illnesses. “That’s four years after their exposure,” he said.”

That’s why,” Phillips said, “while I am pleased to hear of Dr. Gordan’s personal experience, it may be a little early to tell. The whole phenomenon of unexplained illness in Gulf War veterans took a few years to peak and get a little attention.”

Responding to Phillips’ observation, Gordan said the first indications of Gulf War illness took place in September 1991; the war began in January of that year. “It only took a few months,” Gordan said.

“My experience is that those things started showing several months after the beginning of the Gulf War,” Gordan said. “We will keep an eye on these guys (Iraq war veterans), have them enroll in the registry, and see what happens.”

From a medical perspective, Phillips said, “it is likely we will have soldiers returning who will have unexplained physical symptoms. Following most of the major conflicts in the United States there was a subset of men whose illnesses did not fit the model.

“I personally believe,” Phillips said, “we are going to see some who have unexplained symptoms, but we are doing different things with the returning members and I think we will be way ahead of the Gulf War experience.”

The Department of Defense used the Gulf War health experience to develop protective clothing and devices to protect against potential environmental hazards and to set up a pre- and post-deployment data system on each soldier’s health and provided each unit with a health officer, among other things.

Paul Perrone, a veteran of the Gulf War, has written about trying to get the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense to pay attention to the illness he contracted in Saudi Arabia and his needs in his book, “Toy Soldier: Sergeant Perrone’s Story,” which serves as a guide to other servicemen seeking help from the government for their Gulf War Illnesses.

Perrone, who lives in southern New Hampshire, concurs with Gordan’s perception that Iraq War personnel will not be suffering from Gulf War illness, but for a different reason. But his own symptoms trace back to January 1991.

“I have not heard of a Gulf War Syndrome-type illness with these new veterans,” Perrone told the Sunday News. “In the 1991 Gulf War, cases of the so-called Gulf War Syndrome started appearing as early as January 1991. That’s when I personally showed symptoms. The illness left me 100 percent disabled after only two years.

“I see no reason to believe we will have another outbreak,” the former Air Force law enforcement officer said. “I am confident we would be seeing symptoms appearing by now. In 1991 we had bleeding gums, rashes, hair loss, optic neuritis, joint pain and swelling, seizures. I have heard of none of this with these new veterans.”

Many veterans, Perrone included, have blamed their Gulf War illness on the anthrax vaccine administered to them before and during their Gulf War deployment. Perrone testified twice before Congress.

“But we are no longer using the same vaccine so my opinion obviously is we will not see the same type of illness in the Iraq war,” Perrone said.

But the war illness controversy continues. Joyce Riley, a nurse during the Gulf War who contracted Gulf War Illness herself, challenges Gordan’s perception that the military personnel in Iraq are not developing signs of Gulf War Illness. An advocate for servicemen and women whose Gulf War service was followed by unexplained illness, Riley founded the Missouri-based American Gulf War Veterans Association to provide a place where GWI sufferers could turn for help.

Now she says that in addition to helping the Gulf War veterans she is receiving similar requests from veterans of the war in Iraq.

“I have been inundated with phone calls — maybe 100 in the last six months — from sick troops and their family members. The troops are scared to death to speak out because many of them have to go back to Iraq,” Riley said.

“They’ve got respiratory problems compromising their systems,” said Riley who acknowledges that although she was a wartime nurse she hasn’t personally examined the people who telephone her with their problems.

But a conversation with Lt. Col. Phillips, the Gulf War doctor, projects a different picture (from Riley’s) of Defense Department attitude toward men and women reporting wartime illness.

“After the Gulf War,” Phillips said, “the emphasis was on returning them to their military and civilian lives and not on longer-term health effects. But we are realizing we probably didn’t do as well as we should have in checking folks after they came home.

“So we now administer post-deployment assessments. We’re asking everybody, with formal questionnaires, ‘How are you doing?’

“We are trying to force the situation so that everybody who comes home gets a chance to declare for the record if they are having health problems,” Phillips said. “We ask if they were exposed to anything that could relate to their health or mental health. This gives everybody a chance to say, ‘I have an issue.’

“We need to make sure we do justice by their health care in post-deployment,” Phillips said.

But, Phillips continued, “The kinds of symptoms that have come to be associated with so-called Gulf War illnesses — the problem is this happens in the civilian sector as well. We have not been able to say this is unique to the military environment.

“But we are still open to the possibility there are some specific things about deployment that aggravate these things,” Phillips said, “so eventually people report these kinds of symptoms.”

Gordan cited a February 2005 article, “Smoke, Mirrors and the Gulf War,” by Martin Beahl in the English medical journal “Lancet” that said, Gordan paraphrased, “that we are already seeing health problems emerging in the Iraq War veterans, but those problems are more conventional and not puzzling problems like what we saw in the first Gulf War.

“Probably,” Gordan continued, “this is because this Iraq war is more conventional . . . meaning there were no burning fields, fallout from Scud missiles exploding in the air, destruction of weapons bunkers where chemical weapons were stashed, nerve agents, or exposure to depleted uranium.

“So many environmental hazards the servicemen were exposed to in the last war are not present in this war,” Gordan quoted.

Gordan also notes that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, responding in 2002 to his department’s desire to understand whether the Gulf War veterans’ medical complaints were legitimate and what caused them, formed an advisory panel. In October 2004, the panel concluded that the Gulf War illnesses were not results of war stress but of exposure to nerve agents and other environmental hazards present in the Gulf war region.