Study1 Finds Gulf War Illness Linked to Place and Time of Service in Desert Storm

Topeka, KS – A newly released study by the State of Kansas has found that 34% of Gulf War veterans are affected by a pattern of symptoms linked to military service in the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, and that the rate of illness differs by where and when veterans served during the war. Over 2,000 Kansas veterans were interviewed for the study, which compared the health of Gulf War veterans with veterans who served in other areas during the same time period.

Illness rates differed by where and when veterans served in the Gulf War. Overall, the lowest symptom rates were found in veterans who served in Desert Shield, but left the region before the air and ground wars began. Veterans who served on board ship also had lower rates of illness, on average. Highest rates were found in veterans who were in Iraq or Kuwait–42% of whom reported Gulf War illness symptoms. According to Dr. Lea Steele, the epidemiologist who directed the study for the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs, "Differences in illness rates indicate that Gulf War-related health problems are not just randomly reported by all veterans, but are connected to different locations and experiences in the war."

The Kansas study also found that veterans who reported receiving vaccines from the military during the Gulf War, but did not deploy to the Persian Gulf region, may have some of the same health problems as Gulf War veterans. Twelve percent of veterans who did not serve in the Gulf War, but reported getting vaccines during that time, had symptoms of Gulf War illness, compared to 4 percent of veterans who did not serve in the war and did not receive vaccines.

Since returning from the Gulf War, veterans have reported unexplained health problems that include chronic headaches, joint pain, fatigue, rashes, diarrhea, and memory problems. Previous studies done by the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have consistently found Gulf War veterans to have increased rates of these health problems, but have thus far not identified a unique "Gulf War Syndrome", or determined how these conditions may be linked to experiences in the Gulf War. The Kansas study, reported in the November 15 issue of The American Journal of Epidemiology, identified a pattern of symptoms strongly associated with Gulf War service. "Individually, these symptoms can resemble the kinds of health problems we'd see in any group of adults," said Dr. Steele. "What is different in Gulf War veterans is the pattern in which these symptoms occur–a pattern of multiple different types of symptoms together, symptoms which first began during or after the Gulf War, and often persist for years. We used ‘Gulf War Illness' as an umbrella term for these overlapping problems, since symptoms can vary from person to person."

For more information, contact:
Dr. Lea Steele
Kansas Persian Gulf War Veterans Health Initiative Program
Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs
Telephone: 785 296-7455
email: kspgwvets

1. American Journal of Epidemiology - Prevalence and Patterns of Gulf War Illness in Kansas Veterans: Association of Symptoms with Characteristics of Person, Place, and Time of Military Service - Dr. Lea Steele