By Gary Null, PhD
The Progressive Radio Network
After their service in the Gulf War conflict from 1990-1991, hundreds of thousands of our country's veterans began suffering from multiple and diverse debilitating symptoms including neurological and respiratory disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, psychological problems, skin conditions and gastrointestinal issues. This cluster of symptoms came to be known as Gulf War syndrome. Independent investigations, including those conducted by many of the Gulf War veterans themselves, showed multiple causes behind Gulf War syndrome, including experimental vaccines and medications; exposure to depleted uranium (DU); toxicity from biological and chemical weapons, oil fires, and other environmental contaminants.
Yet for nearly two decades, the official word from the Veterans Administration (VA), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the White House was that Gulf War syndrome did not exist. The result? Countless returning military personnel struggled for years to have their physical illnesses recognized as something other than psychological.
The latest official statistics compiled by the VA show that 25%-30%, or as many as 250,000 Gulf War veterans have suffered from this life-threatening spectrum of illnesses. (1) The number of deaths attributable to Gulf War syndrome remains elusive, however, the US government has failed to address this critical matter. A VA report released in 2014 weighs in on the disturbing oversight:
No comprehensive information has been published on the mortality experience of U.S. Gulf War era veterans after the year 2000. The 14 years for which no mortality figures
are available represent more than half of the 23 years since Desert Storm. Mortality information from the last decade is particularly crucial for understanding the health consequences of the Gulf War, given the Epidemiological Research latency periods associated with many chronic diseases of interest. Despite specific recommendations over many years from both the current Committee and Institute of Medicine panels, federal research efforts to monitor the mortality experience of 1990-1991 Gulf War veterans remain seriously inadequate. (2)
How has the federal government managed to avoid taking responsibility on an issue that profoundly impacts the lives of hundreds of thousands of our veterans? Such is the power of the military-industrial complex and the political machine in Washington DC. It seems that as long as the government can deny its role in exposing our soldiers to unproven and toxic vaccines, medications, biological and chemical weapons and depleted uranium, it wouldn't have to provide medical care to the victims of Gulf War illness. This is, quite simply, one of the largest medical scandals and coverups in American history. For nearly two decades, the American media supported the official position that Gulf War Syndrome was only in the heads of our veterans, while legions of vets and their families were hung out to dry and die. The administrations of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have been complicit in the plot, and therefore stand accused of massive human rights violations. Yet American media denies it completely.
In this special two part investigation it will become clear that these claims are not wild conspiracy theories or anti-government rants, but based on firsthand testimony from veterans and years of solid scientific research. All these facts paint a sobering picture of the insidious corruption, lies and negligence on the part of our government, which has, quite literally, killed our own.
I started reporting on the alarming emergence of Gulf War syndrome in the mid nineties. In a 1994 cover story in a national publication and based on my original 2 year investigation, I discussed the disturbing link between exposure to experimental drugs and other chemical toxins and the host of serious health problems among servicemen and women who participated in the Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm. In the article, I interviewed vets who spoke not only about suffering deeply from various symptoms, but also how their attempts to bring their circumstances to light and receive healthcare were effectively stonewalled by US government.
One such serviceman was Paul Sullivan, who spoke to me about the hardships he faced, stating:
I first became ill right there in the gulf, with rashes and what we just considered runny noses. It never went away. I ended up with chronic sinusitis, chronic bronchitis, learned I had a tuberculosis infection. The rashes still haven't gone away. The VA completely blew me off for two years until I went public and talked on your radio station.... Before then, the VA was in the process of purging people's records, denying them service.... This denial of the problem-that it even exists-by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans' Affairs is absolutely shocking, immoral, and unconscionable-absolutely outrageous. (3)
My investigative article also covered the findings of two federally appointed researchers who presented an incendiary report at a May 1994 Congressional hearing on the topic "Is Military Research Hazardous to Veterans' Health?". The report, written by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and Dr. Patricia Olsen, points to an effort by the DoD to fast-track Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of certain experimental drugs designed to protect soldiers against wartime chemical exposure. According to the report, the DoD told the FDA that botulinum toxoid (botulism) vaccine and the anti-nerve gas drug pyridostigmine bromide were safe and effective for long-term use, despite the fact that no such evidence existed. Further, the researchers showed that DoD studies on the drugs employed shoddy scientific methodology and turned up ample evidence of serious adverse side effects. Another disturbing fact was the lack of soldiers' informed consent. I explained in the article that:
According to Zuckerman and Olson, initially the Department of Defense assured the F.D.A. that investigational drugs would be administered to soldiers on a voluntary basis. Information on the products would be provided, and soldiers would be monitored for ill effects. As it turned out, though, none of these conditions were met. The Defense Department got the F.D.A. to grant them waivers from informed-consent regulations for the use of pyridostigmine and botulinum-toxoid vaccine. As a result, many gulf veterans were not told what vaccine they were being given or what the risks were. (4)
Despite years of mounting evidence, it was not until 2008 that Gulf War syndrome was officially recognized as a distinct illness after a US Congress-appointed committee released an analysis of over 100 studies related to Gulf War illnesses. The committee concluded that there was a clear link to specific chemical exposures. The chemicals identified included pesticides, pyridostigmine bromide, and the nerve gas sarin that troops may have been exposed to during the demolition of a weapons depot. The committee's chief scientist, Dr. Beatrice Golomb, singled out the acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor drugs such as pyridostigmine bromide as having a particularly strong connection to the development of veterans' ill health. She also revealed that some people appear to be particularly at risk from such chemicals due to genetic variations that impair enzyme function. When exposed, these people run a much higher risk for developing symptoms and disease (5).