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Congress Moves to Recognize 'Gulf War Illness'

By John Carty Correspondent

July 10, 2001

( - Veterans suffering from so-called, 'Gulf War Illness'
are on the verge of receiving what many think is long overdue:
recognition of their maladies and appropriate compensation.

Roughly 10 years after the Persian Gulf War, the Persian Gulf War
Illness Compensation Act of 2001
, has gained its 218th co-sponsor,
representing a majority of House members.

The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Benefits is currently
planning a hearing on the bill, though no hearing has been scheduled

Reps. Ronnie Shows (D-Miss.), Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.) and Elton
Gallegly (R-Cal.) introduced the bill on February 14th of this year.
Its stated purpose is to "clarify the standards for compensation for
Persian Gulf veterans suffering from certain undiagnosed illnesses."

The measure could provide assistance to tens of thousands of veterans
who suffer from a variety of illnesses that aren't necessarily diagnosed
with medical certainty.

According to the Pentagon, more than 540,000 Americans served in
the Persian Gulf War and some 117,000 veterans later signed up for
special medical examinations.

Of these, 105,000 were found to have symptoms of a defined illness,
but about 21,000 veterans appeared to be suffering from an unknown

In addition, some of those diagnosed with a known disease reportedly
believe that their illness resulted from their time served.

Symptoms commonly attributed to Gulf War Syndrome include:
chronic fatigue, muscle and joint pain, loss of concentration,
forgetfulness, headache, and rash.

The legislation also attempts to acknowledge that a "wide range"
of chemicals may be responsible for the various ailments
suffered by Gulf War veterans
, such as "biological and
chemical agents
including sand, smoke from oil-well fires,
paints, solvents, insecticides, petroleum fuels and their
combustion products
, organophosphate nerve agents,
pyridostigmine bromide, depleted uranium, anthrax and
botulinum toxoid vaccinations, and infectious diseases, in
addition to other psychological and physiological stresses,"
according to the bill.

In 1996 the Defense Department for the first time acknowledged
that about 100,000 American Gulf War troops may have been
exposed to low levels of sarin, the deadly nerve agent best
known for its use in a terrorist attack on a Tokyo subway
in 1995.
The Department believed the levels were too low to
cause any health problems, however.

Shows has called the bill "crucial legislation that supports the
men and women who went to war ... and are now suffering
from unexplained and devastating ailments."

According to Shows' Chief of Staff Burns Strider, the proponents
of the bill are optimistic about its passage.

"Anytime in the House you receive a majority or more of the
membership as co-sponsors, you have a bill that has, obviously,
a lot of interest and support and...that makes the leadership take
a strong look at the bill in terms of moving it forward on the
calendar, and we hope that's what happens," said Strider.

The author of the companion bill in the Senate is Sen. Kay Bailey
Hutchison (R-Tex), and Strider said the two bills were "drafted
in conjunction with each other."

According to Shows' office, "Congress gave the Veterans
Administration some authority to compensate veterans for
the illness," but an estimated 75 percent of those claims have
been denied.

While the government has already spent more than $150 million
studying the symptoms of Gulf War veterans, no official 'illness'
has yet been proclaimed.