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'Soldier, Gulf War Syndrome Is in Your Head'


By Mark Anderson

DALLAS, Texas—Last Nov. 17, when the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses released a much-awaited 450-page report that acknowledged Gulf War Illiness (GWI) as a genuine condition characterized by an array of symptoms linked to certain causes, there was a sigh of relief among military veterans. Finally, Gulf War “Syndrome” was demystified. No longer could a doctor tell a sick veteran that his or her strange symptoms are only “stress” and therefore psychological. Help was on the way.

ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER VIDEO Interviews Gulf War Vet Randy Stamm

That is, of course, all good and well. But the Feb. 23-24, 2009 followup meeting of this committee, attended by American Free Press but ignored by other media, revealed that the thing too many Gulf War soldiers had been told—“it’s all in your head, soldier,” before being referred to a psyche ward in many instances—has made something of a comeback, but with a different meaning. This implies that the welcome research this committee is overseeing may be too limited in scope. 


The second day of the committee’s meeting at the University of Texas Southwest Medical School, in the spacious T. Boone Pickens building, saw committee members Dr. Beatrice Golomb and Dr. Lea Steele, among other scientists, castigating lead researcher Dr. Robert Haley for focusing too much multi-million-dollar research on the brain, as if anything from the neck down was off the table in terms of pinpointing other areas of the body affected by the Gulf War that could lead to serious illness.

Indeed, lecture after lecture featured highly academic monologues on what’s going on between the ears, with neurologists giving talks as dry as the sands of Iraq about white matter in the brain being vulnerable and in many case adversely affected by Gulf War exposures to toxins in the unforgiving environments of those distant nations. This prompted Gulf War veteran Mike Hood, an Air Force vet in Dallas as a Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman, to recall almost identical white-matter discussions at Oklahoma VA meetings way back in 1997. He feels like everything is going around in circles.

Moreover, another Gulf War I Army veteran Randy Stamm of Mesquite, Texas—who said he was in the first unit to enter Kuwait before camping directly across from huge oil-well fires for several months—criticized the committee for not getting bigger groups of veterans together for testing, in order to get a large enough pool of participants to ensure comprehensive and objective results. He believes there has been too much small-scale random sampling and instead ought to be more advertising and publicity to summon as many vets as possible who experienced the same large-scale events that could have caused Gulf War Illness—including his unit that camped by the oil fires and units at many other incidents. (See video interview of Stamm above.)

“Our problem is exclusion of large Gulf War subgroups ... with Gulf War Illness,” Dr. Golomb told Dr. Haley. “I am having a lot of trouble defining the Gulf War vets as that ‘brain’ group.” Golomb then actually stated that all this research on Gulf War illnesses could end up back to the culture of “it’s all in your head.” She also expressed concern for those veterans for whom brain problems are “not part of their clinical profile,” and yet “this [brain research] is the place where a lot of money is being allocated.”

On Feb. 24, Stamm, who agreed with Dr. Golomb’s firm perusal of Haley’s research approach, showed the committee the 17 different medications he takes daily (many of them three doses per day).

Later that day, this AFP reporter asked the committee to keep Depleted Uranium, or DU, on the table as a cause of Gulf War Illness, since this radioactive weapons component used to fortify munitions to enable them to penetrate any hardened target—which is toxic when fragmented or aerosolized—“is the one constant” used virtually every day in both the first Gulf War and the current Iraq-Afghanistan occupations, with DU fired on the same sands now as it was 18 years ago. The other traumatic episodes—oil well fires, Camp Doha, etc., where oil and toxic munitions went up in smoke—were serious but relatively short-lived.

Thus, this reporter/commentator concluded that while PB pills (an anti-nerve gas agent) and insecticides were the main GWI culprits cited in last November’s special report, DU, acknowledged in the report as a contributing GWI cause but downplayed, will continue to be used almost nonstop in an Iraq war that is six years old this month. Furthermore, this research at some point ought to take soldiers in the current conflicts into account and not forever focus on just vets from the first Gulf War, this writer pointed out, since all vets deserve medical care before it’s too late.

Speaking of this committee, Stamm, one of only a handful of vets who made it to the Dallas meeting, told AFP: “They are strictly searching for certain people ... and shutting other Gulf War vets out who are sick.” He added: “I think $75 million as far as their budget is concerned should more than qualify for the testing they need to do for just about anybody.” Notably, the spending for the Congressionally-chartered Research Advisory Committee has totaled some $75 million since its inception in 2003, or about $15 million per year.

Dr. Haley, while he defended his approach, agreed with the committee that a more comprehensive approach makes sense, although he did not make any definitive statements about making dramatic changes, at least not yet. He did stress, however, that it’s important in his view to separate soldiers with illnesses not caused by the war from soldiers who became ill from the war, “or this whole study is wrecked.” He did not elaborate. Much more on this research committee’s direction and findings will be reported in AFP in the near future.

The research committee meets again June 29-30 in Boston and Nov. 2-3 in Washington D.C. Another committee that focuses on more immediate matters such as treatment, the Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans, had its March 18-19 Waco, TX meeting canceled and may be dissolved under Obama administration budget cuts. It’s vulnerable because it was not created by an act of Congress like the research committee, said the advisory body’s chairman, Kirt Love.

MARK ANDERSON is the corresponding editor for American Free Press.

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(Issue # 1, January 5 & 12, 2009)

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