For Soldiers with Gulf War Illness, a Clue to the Mystery in Their Cells

As a kid, Adam Such knew he wanted to join the military when he grew up. After graduating from West Point in 1989, he went on to have a career that included 17 years in special operations. Such served in the first Gulf War, the 2003 Iraq War, and other places, too. In Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, his helicopter was shot down, and he suffered a broken back.

But after the first Gulf War, Such realized that something didn’t feel right about his health. “I recognized a significant decline in my stamina, my focus, my concentration; the worst part was what’s now termed fibromyalgia...because it’s everywhere.” But, he says, he was a typical soldier: you tough through things. He thought of the tiredness as “the post-deployment fatigue”—just a result of pushing his body. Eventually he was diagnosed with Gulf War Illness.

Once known as Gulf War Syndrome, Gulf War Illness is now a diagnosis recognized by the Veterans Administration. It can display a range of seemingly unrelated symptoms, including headache, gastrointestinal problems, pain, and fatigue — and its onset can be many years after exposure.

The Department of Defense estimates that "as many as 200,000 veterans" of the first Gulf War might be affected. Treatment is difficult, and not all veterans show the same symptoms, with the same severity, or respond to treatments in the same way.

It’s nearly impossible to figure out whether exposure to a specific substance can cause any given case of Gulf War Illness. However, many vets remember things from their tours that didn’t—and still don’t—sit right. One veteran was in a recently vacated Iraqi bunker when he noticed a distinct scent: “geraniums and onions.” That was probably from mustard gas and another nerve agent. “Something happened in our deployment in Desert Storm,” a veteran says.

Source: For Soldiers with Gulf War Illness, a Clue to the Mystery in Their Cells

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