Gulf War Syndrome. Probably the most notorious and suspicious health complaint of recent years. Distinct from cases of lungs being eroded by exposure to mustard gas, or confirmed cancer linked to depleted uranium (which many people claim is so weakly radioactive that you basically have to breath in the dust and have it sit in your lungs for years to be at risk), Gulf War Syndrome is a vague and poorly defined disorder (start ringing warning bells now) which afflicts veterans and frustrates diagnosticians. There are weirder dodgy diagnoses, such as Morgellon's Disease, but Gulf War Syndrome is much more widely known.
Most of the informed, knowledgeable commentary I've seen is that GWS is simply PTSD and other psychopathologies, and when you look at the list of symptoms - "persistent headaches, widespread pain, cognitive difficulties, unexplained fatigue, skin rashes, chronic diarrhoea and digestive and respiratory problems" - anyone with a passing knowledge of psychology or medicine in general should see that they are, all of them, possible as symptoms of a strong stress reaction.
And now we have this: Gulf War Illness is real, report finds (ABC News Online).
It has taken since 2002, but a Research Advisory Committee has finally come out and said "Well, there's definitely something going on, but we're not sure what it is. But, dammit, it's there".
Okay, sarcasm mode off for a moment - it's not uncommon for causes to be a bit vague. Just look at Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which has some MRI evidence backing it up. But the problem with GWS is that it displays some depressingly common patterns - self-reports of cognitive deficits exceed actual test resutls, which are age-group normal; the most common symptoms are common in the general population anyway; death rates from general causes are the same as for non-veterans; and, oh yes, my favourite: every major military conflict results in a large collection of veterans with vague symptomatology, a condition which was labelled "shell shock" after WWI and is now known as (drum roll please) PTSD.
So I remain skeptical of people who cry "Gulf War Illness!" when a good swath of tests has found no toxicology, no radiation, and no physiological abnormalities. The US government has an obligation to care for them, but the type of care which is most appropriate may not be what the veterans were expecting. Hey, some of them may even have picked up CFS by pure coincidence.
Have a look at Quackwatch or Wikipedia if you really want to look into the debate.
What stunned me about that ABC article, however, is the list of possible causes: A drug given to troops, pesticides used during the war (why? It's not like Iraq has forests the way Vietnam does, sorry, did), exposure to smoke from oil-well fires and low-level exposure to sarin gas during the destruction of captured stocks.
At this point, any personal injury lawyer or OH&S professional is jumping up and down and shouting about employer responsibility.
Basically, of the four options mentioned, one is the direct result of standard practice within the army, and I can't wait to see the legal shit-fight if that ever gets proven, and the other three are the result of the army failing to provide its soldiers with appropriate and adequate safety clothing. Try doing thaton a building site and see how long you last!
If this report is true, and there is or are physical ailments caused by any of this exposure, it is taking the concept of "friendly fire" to disturbing and innovative levels which not even the US Armed Forces had previously demonstrated themselves capable of.
Link to ABC News Online story "Gulf War Illness is real, report finds"