Officials do about-face on Persian Gulf War vets' health complaints

-- The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Dec. 15

Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2001

For years, the federal government has cast a skeptical eye on the health complaints of Gulf War veterans, problems that veterans groups insist are linked to service in that conflict.

But a new study of 2.5 million veterans who served at that time, both in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere, has prompted the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to make an unexpected about-face. Preliminary results show that veterans who were deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1990 to 1991 are twice as likely to develop Lou Gehrig's disease as their counterparts who were stationed elsewhere.

Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, is a severe degenerative neuromuscular disease that usually causes death within two to five years. The cause is not known, and there is no cure. ...

The findings do not prove that service in the region caused the disease, and the study itself has yet to go through peer review. But the military isn't using that as a pretext for inaction.

Instead, the Defense Department and VA made a joint announcement about the study results and said that veterans suffering from the disease, and those veterans' families, would be offered disability and survivor benefits.

Giving the benefit of the doubt to terminally ill veterans and their survivors is the compassionate thing to do. Nailing down the cause of these ALS cases will take time, and that's one thing ALS patients don't have. Officials also said that they would continue researching ALS in service members. ...

Service members deserve to have their health concerns taken seriously, and in a world where chemical and biological weapons are a growing threat, the military is going to need to look beyond the obvious.

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