Efforts to help define what's making some Gulf War veterans sick

HOUSTON – Soldiers that proudly served in the first Gulf War now want answers about what's making some sick.   

In August 1991, the United States led a coalition of nations in a war against Iraq after it invaded and annexed Kuwait. Jimmy Arocho was nearing the end of his military career when deployed as a Staff Sargeant in the U.S. Army's Airborne Assault Division.  

He said, "I've always known that there is no greater honor than to serve your country, bear arms in defense of your country."

But like many others, when he came home from that war, he found his service came with consequences that only became evident with time. "I was doing well throughout my career, but when I came back from the Gulf War one of the first things that I picked up on was this horrible chronic fatigue, couldn't explain it."

Now, more than 150 researchers around the world are looking into the effects of the war on veterans.

They are studying a condition they have labeled "Gulf War illness."  Dr. Nancy Klimas is the lead researcher in the United States. The study involves scientists as well as biologists.  

She explains their approach, "We said instead of trying to understand this illness through a tight focus lens, let's embrace the complexity."

The approach is helping identify and define a condition that, right now, the Department od Veterans Affairs says "doesn't exist."

Arocho said, "I was told by the VA this was in your head, and now, participating in research, these labels, these research findings make sense. They connect to the complaints, and they're real."

Dr. Klimas believes the research will prove that point and come up with an affecting treatment.  She adds, "The brain we're seeing in our imaging studies of Gulf War veterans looks like early version of Parkinson's disease so we want to get in there now quick and jump in there and fix it before worse things happen."

The Gulf War Illness Research Program got underway in 2006 to help improve the lives of veterans who served in the conflict.

To learn about possible VA benefits for Gulf War illness we're including this link to the VA's website.