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New Study Links Gulf War Veterans' Illness to Pesticides
(Beyond Pesticides, October 18, 2004
) A federal panel of medical experts set up in 2002 by the Veterans Administration has concluded that many 1991 Gulf War veterans are suffering from neurological damage caused from exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, including pesticides, that inhibit the production of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, necessary for the normal functioning of the central nervous system. It is estimated that 100,000 Gulf War veterans suffer war-related health problems. The findings, ready to be released by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, were reported in the New York Times on October 15, 2004 and in the October issue of Science magazine.

The former chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Gulf War Veterans' Illness that reported in 1996 that there was no link between toxic exposure and the veterans' illness told the Times that the earlier findings were based on the evidence at the time. Joyce Lashof, M.D., former chair of the presidential committee and professor emerita and former dean of the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley, said, "We certainly weren't sure that our report was the definitive answer."

The Committee is expected to recommend $60 million in new federal funds for research into treatments that it says are "urgently needed."

When the committee was formed by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2002, U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT) hailed the announcement. Mr. Sanders has been an outspoken critic of the Pentagon's handling of Gulf War illnesses that afflict tens of thousands of Persian Gulf War veterans. Sanders noted that, "This new VA panel marks a departure from earlier Department of Defense panels because it includes other critics in the veterans and medical research communities of the DoD's inadequate efforts to develop a treatment and a cure for Gulf War illness."

At the time of its creation, Mr. Sanders said the it, "gives some hope that the federal government is beginning to seriously investigate the cause and a possible cure for Gulf War illness. For too long the DoD has refused to listen to those of us in Congress, and those in the veterans community and the medical research community who have demanded an aggressive campaign to solve this crisis. Tens of thousands of men and women who served in the Persian Gulf War have a very real physical illness. It's high time that someone in the government took them seriously."

The VA had previously acknowledged that the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, is linked to service in the Gulf War. This means that veterans suffering from that illness are entitled to compensation. It was also the first identified disease to be officially linked to the Gulf War.

When it was formed in 2002, Mr. Sanders said the formation of the committee should lead to more progress in the fight against Gulf War illness. "By including a wide range of viewpoints on the advisory committee, the VA has increased the opportunities to research new and promising course of treatment. The old, narrow-minded approach has produced virtually no results in a decade. Now, hopefully, we can get on with the business of helping the men and women who served this country and are suffering as a result."

For additional background on Gulf War syndrome, see Daily News.

TAKE ACTION: Contact your members of Congress (U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives) and Anthony Principi, Secretary, Department of Veterans' Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20420, 202-273-4800 and urge that action be taken to move ahead with the release of the final committee report and an action plan to address the recommendations.