Ill Treated

Stone, Alex
April 2003
New Republic;4/21/2003, Vol. 228 Issue 15/16, p12
From a medical standpoint, the first Gulf war was a disaster. Of the 700,000 American men and women who returned from Operation Desert Storm, roughly 30 percent went on to file disability claims for a host of ailments, including skin lesions, rheumatism, reproductive problems, depression, chronic fatigue, and impaired cognitive function. These have since been grouped under the name Gulf War Syndrome (GWS). After 224 studies and more than $200 million in research, the causes remain uncertain. Compounding the problem was the fact that the U.S. military had no way to track its soldiers' well-being. The scarcity of data on soldiers' health before and after battle made it impossible to ascertain what triggered their symptoms, and poor records on environmental conditions and troop movements during the war have impeded attempts to determine what areas, and what divisions, may have been affected by specific toxins. As a result, scientists and physicians have had difficulty treating veterans for precisely what ails them. One would hope the health lessons from the first Gulf war would have made their way into the military planning for this one. After all, the 2003 war in Iraq may well turn out to be more dangerous than the last. Already the ground war has been longer--there were only four days of ground fighting in Desert Storm--and more intense. Unfortunately, when it comes to protecting American soldiers' health, the second Gulf war looks a lot like the first. In fairness, the Department of Defense (DOD) has made some improvements in the way it monitors the health of its soldiers. The military is using new tools to identify toxins and measure levels of exposure in Iraq as well as enhanced technology to mitigate their effects. But these advances are eclipsed by the many appalling oversights in the DOD's health-protection strategy. The most egregious lapse has been the simplest: the failure to provide soldiers with medical evaluations prior to entering battle.


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