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Gulf War Illnesses Affect 300,000 Vets

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2000
Ellen Tomson, staff writer

The American Gulf War Veterans Association estimates 300,000 of the 700,000 troops serving at the time of the Gulf War conflict are sick as a result of their military duty.
``The American public is not aware at all of the severity of the illness and the numbers of people ill,'' says Joyce Riley, a spokesperson for the veterans group.

The group has concluded that some veterans are suffering from a communicable disease that has been passed on to spouses and children, according to Riley, who planned to speak on the issue today at the Capitol.

Riley, who served as a captain in the United States Air Force and flew on C-130 missions in support of Operation Desert Storm, never served in the Gulf. Yet, she says, she became ill in 1991 with symptoms like those of Gulf veterans. She and others charge they were ``guinea pigs'' for experimental uses of vaccines.

The Department of Defense acknowledges some 90,000 veterans have symptoms ranging from headaches and joint pain to more serious problems, according to Lt. Col. Dian Lawhon, of the department's Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses. About 20,000 veterans in this group have undiagnosed illnesses.

One instance of the release of sarin gas has been confirmed , Lawhon said. One vaccine was used in an attempt to protect some troops from possible exposure to a deadly nerve gas. Its use for this purpose was ``investigational,'' according to Lawhon. Long-term effects of sarin gas and the vaccine are not known. About 150,000 troops received anthrax and about 8,000 troops, mostly special forces, received treatments meant to protect them against botulism.

``We do know that people are sick, but all we can do is treat the symptoms when we don't have diagnoses,'' Lawhon says.

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