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Gulf War Veterans and Illness, 25 Years Later

Nearly 700,000 U.S. troops were involved in the first Gulf War. (PHC D. W. Holmes/US Navy)
Nearly 700,000 U.S. troops were involved in the first Gulf War. (PHC D. W. Holmes/US Navy)
April 12, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. - Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the ceasefire that ended the first Gulf War. During the short conflict, nearly 700,000 U.S. troops were engaged.

Dr. Ronald Grewenow, clinical director at the Portland Veteran Affairs Medical Center, says the war produced fewer physical injuries than other U.S. wars, and of those veterans reporting problems, most suffered from the still-unexplainable Gulf War Illness, which left them with fatigue and muscle pains.

Grewenow says war-time stress is the most likely cause, but there are other possibilities too.

"Such as exposure to things like nerve agent," he says. "We can't test for it, at least as of yet. There's no way to determine past exposure, and if you can't determine past exposure it's hard to figure out what the effect is."

He adds medical research to find the source of Gulf War Illness is looking promising, and there could be results in the coming years.

The VA has said exposure to chemicals like pesticides or nerve agents could be a source. However, prolonged stress on the brain is the most widely-accepted root of these symptoms.

Grewenow says Gulf War veterans, like all veterans, appreciate acknowledgement of their service and contribution. They also understand war has changed their lives forever.

Veterans often focus on working because it can be an important part of putting them back into the swing of domestic life.

"These veterans are used to being highly productive, and it's very hard on them when they have difficulty re-engaging in the workforce," Grewenow says.

Veterans of any U.S. conflict can find their local VA medical center and covered healthcare benefits at va.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR