Local News

Gulf War Illness Could Be Self-Inflicted Injury for U.S.

Posted October 18, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— Tens of thousands of soldiers who fought in the Gulf War came home sick. For a while, no one believed them. Now,the Pentagonadmits a drug given to U.S. troops during wartime cannot be ruled out as a possible cause of the mysterious illnesses.

The drug, pyridostigmine bromide, is known to soldiers as PB. It was taken during the Gulf War to protect themselves from the deadly nerve gas, soman.

Gulf War veteran Doug Waddell suffers from chronic joint pain, and he has trouble breathing. The 38-year-old spends a lot of time on his computer chatting with other veterans who are experiencing the same thing.

Tuesday, they were talking about anew studythat says the drug, PB, may be the cause of symptoms associated with the Gulf War Syndrome.

"It's good that they are acknowledging it now, but that is something that should have taken place a long time ago," said Waddell

Although not fully approved by theFood and Drug Administration, thousands of soldiers were given the pill every eight hours.

It is the only known drug that can protect people from the nerve gas, soman.

"It wasn't really a total surprise. That has been a possibility all along," said Dr. Bennett Owens.

Owens evaluates soldiers sent to the Persian Gulf. He is encouraged that even more research will be done to try and find a connection. If a study confirms a link, Owens says it still may be the best defense.

"If we don't use it, the death rate if we were attacked with soman is likely to be 100 percent," said Owens.

An estimated 250,000 soldiers did use PB during the Gulf War. Owens said that number could sway up and down. When the soldiers came home and filled out the evaluations, many soldiers could not remember whether they took the drug or not.

The potential impact for any steps to understanding, explaining and curing Gulf War Syndrome is huge and can be measured in lives.

The Pentagon says 697,000 men and women served in Operations Desert Shield and Storm. Of that group, more than 90,000 say they are sick.