Return to Gulf War Veterans Home Page


Chapter 4, Part 2: Conclusions

Chemical/Biological Warfare Agent Exposure: Why Wasn't Everyone Affected?

Chemical/Biological Warfare Agent Exposure: Did the Military Know or Suspect that Individuals were Exposed to these Hazardous Substances?

The Need for Immediate Primary Scientific Research and Advanced Medical Research

Conclusions


Chemical/Biological Warfare Agent Exposure: Why Wasn't Everyone Affected?

The ability of someone to resist an illness, disease, or the adverse effects of a medication varies with each individual. Not everyone who received nerve agent pre-treatment drugs exhibited adverse effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control not everyone who is exposed to nerve gas will cross a toxic threshold at the same time. Certainly, there is a threshold beyond which such exposure will surely be lethal. This is what has come to be accepted as the effect of nerve gas exposure.

The results of this investigation suggest that there is, in fact, a relationship between dosage and harmful effects. A number of units who believe they suffered a direct chemical weapons attack report illness rates over 50%. The Czech chemical decontamination unit, which suffered only indirect exposure and might be expected to be well prepared against chemical exposure, reports an illness rate of 10%. The extent of exposure in the larger population in the Gulf at the time, and the rate of illnesses, is unknown. The number of Gulf War veterans who have signed up for the Persian Gulf Registry examination is now over 17,000.

Nerve agents like Sarin kill by disrupting the metabolic processes, causing a buildup of a chemical messenger (acetylcholine) by inhibiting the production of acetylcholinesterase, a key regulator of neurotransmission. Nerve agent pre-treatment drugs (NAPP) administered to U.S. servicemen and women, such as pyridostigmine bromide, also disrupt these metabolic processes by creating a carbamate-inhibited acetylcholinesterase, which preempts the action of the nerve agent. Several veterans suffering from Gulf War illnesses have testified before House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and believe that these illnesses are related to the permanent adverse side effects from this drug. Further, the efficacy of the biological warfare defense inoculations merits further research.

Return to Top of Page


Chemical/Biological Warfare Agent Exposure: Did the Military Know or Suspect that Individuals were Exposed to these Hazardous Substances?

The evidence cited above and the statements of the witnesses will have to be evaluated on their own merits in this regard. During the course of this investigation, a medical questionnaire was received from one of the veterans currently suffering from Gulf War illnesses. This questionnaire like the other evidence and statements must be weighed on its own merits. The following information is solicited on this document, an overprint to SF600:

  1. What diseases or injuries did you have in the Southwest Asia region?
  2. Are you receiving any medicine, or other treatment, at the present time?
  3. Do you have fever, fatigue, weight loss, or yellow jaundice?
  4. Do you have any swelling of lymph nodes, stomach, or other body parts?
  5. Do you have any rash, skin infection, or sores?
  6. Do you have a cough or sinus infection?
  7. Do you have stomach or belly pain, nausea, diarrhea, or bloody bowel movements?
  8. Do you have urinary problems such as blood or stones in urine or pain and burning with urination?
  9. Have you had nightmares or trouble sleeping?
  10. Have you had recurring thoughts about your experiences during Desert Shield/Desert Storm?
  11. Do you have any reason to believe that you, or any members of your unit, were exposed to chemical warfare or germ warfare?
Forms such as this suggest that the military expected, for whatever reason, to see symptomologies such as those that are currently being experienced. This information, as well as the information maintained in the medical records of U.S. forces and the Iraqi EPWs may provide information that will assist medical researchers in determining causal links. This issue should be further investigated.

Return to Top of Page


The Need for Immediate Primary Scientific Research and Advanced Medical Research

Thousands of veterans of the Gulf War are reporting symptoms of memory loss, muscle and joint pain, intestinal and heart problems, fatigue, rashes, sores, and running noses. A number of veterans who have exhibited these symptoms since returning from the Gulf War have subsequently died. Physicians have been unable to diagnose the cause of the disorders.

The following symptoms have been identified as those most commonly reported by veterans:

Symptoms most commonly reported by veterans (cont.):

female veterans only:

Little is known about the long-term consequences of exposure to low levels of nerve gas, and even less about complications which might arise from using combined agent weapons. Further, little is known about other difficulties associated with interfering with the neurotransmission process. Non-lethal exposure to pesticides, however, has manifested itself in memory loss. Nearly every bodily process requires a properly functioning nervous system to operate.

The following is a summary, not offered as diagnostic evidence, suggesting how some of the symptoms noted could be rooted in neurotransmission related disorders:

Return to Top of Page


Conclusions

Thousands of American servicemen and women are reportedly suffering from memory loss, muscle and joint pain, intestinal and heart problems, fatigue, rashes, sores, and running noses as a result of their service in the Gulf War. A number of veterans who have exhibited these symptoms since returning from the Gulf War reportedly have died. Members of their immediate families are now beginning to contract some of the illnesses. Physicians have been unable to diagnose or treat the cause of the disorders.

Despite the Department of Defense's position that no evidence exists for exposure to chemical warfare agents during the Gulf War, this investigation is establishing that there is substantial evidence supporting claims that U.S. servicemen and women were exposed to low level chemical warfare agents and possibly biological agents and toxins from a variety of sources. This exposure may account for many of the Gulf War Illness symptoms. Little is known about the long term consequences of exposure to low levels of nerve gas, although most are known to have cumulative toxic effects.

Even less is known about complications which might arise from exposure to combined agents and combined agent weapons. The combined agent strategy is intended to frustrate efforts at diagnosing these illnesses. Non-lethal exposure to pesticides can result in memory loss, and nerve agents are chemically related to pesticides. Many of the veterans complaining of Gulf War Syndrome illnesses suffer from, among other disorders, memory loss. Many of the identified chemical and biological agents interfere with the body's neurotransmission processes, effecting the regulation of acetylcholine, neurotoxin acetylcholine, and other necessary enzymes required by nearly every bodily process. In order to detect irregularities such as those which might be caused by exposure to nerve gas, computer read electroencephalograms are needed; a physician probably would not be able to recognize the abnormalities during a visual EEG interpretation.

If biotoxins or biological agents were used or released in the Gulf War, detection requires that physicians and scientists have some idea of what they are looking for. Further, if mycotoxins or viruses were used or released, they would be difficult to detect without the aid or advanced laboratory screen methods.

Non-lethal exposure to chemical warfare agents, some biological agents, mixed chemical/biotoxin agents and/or the administration of nerve agent pre-treatment drugs could explain many of the symptoms of the Gulf War illness, as well as the inability to diagnose the disorders. Other possible causes for Gulf War syndrome have been suggested, such as exposure to pesticides, petrochemicals, burning landfills and oil wells, depleted uranium from anti-tank munitions, or exposure to other environmental hazards. Many of these possibilities already have been investigated and discounted. Additionally, these types of exposures are not specific to the Middle East or to the Gulf War and the evidence for these hazards causing the large number of unexplained illnesses is less than compelling. Each of these possible causes of unexplained illnesses, however, should be systematically researched.

Return to Top of Page


Return to Table of Contents

Continue Reading -- go to Appendix A, part 1