The ALS Association

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Progress

Department of Veterans Affairs to Fund New Gulf War Study

November 23, 2004

Anthony Principi, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, announced November 12 that the Department will spend $15 million over the next year to study the illnesses experienced by many veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.  Nearly one-third of Gulf War veterans report chronic health problems including ALS, and studies have shown that Gulf War veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS as those who did not serve in the war.

The research announced by the Secretary will focus on the relationship between the illnesses, including ALS, and neurotoxins, which many veterans were exposed to during the war.  Importantly, Secretary Principi also announced that the VA will establish a research center to develop treatments for Gulf War-related illnesses.

The Secretary’s announcement comes in response to a report issued by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses.  The report, which has not been peer reviewed, concluded that exposure to neurotoxins during the war probably was the cause of the illnesses rather than stress and psychological conditions as earlier federal reports had concluded.  The report specifically cites three potential causes of the illnesses:  exposure to sarin nerve gas destroyed during the war; pesticides and insect repellents used by troops; and pyridostigmine bromide, a drug provided to troops to protect them from sarin nerve gas.  Although the report did not look at these toxins in relation to ALS, the availability of an ALS registry for veterans as well as the increased funds for ALS research will enable studies to try to identify the toxins that may be linked to ALS.

“The new findings strongly support The ALS Association’s call for increased funding for ALS research at the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” said Stevan Gibson, vice president of government relations and public affairs for ALSA.   “ALSA will work with Congress, DoD and the VA to help ensure that veterans with ALS will benefit from the Secretary’s call to action not only by directing funding to determine the causes of Gulf War-related illnesses like ALS, but also to identify treatments.”  

Although this new research will focus on illnesses associated with the Gulf War specifically, it has the potential to benefit all veterans.  A previous study found that people with a history of any military service are at a 1.6 times greater risk of developing ALS than those in the general population.  Any changes in military operating procedures, including deployments and efforts to reduce exposure to neurotoxins, that result from this research certainly will benefit those serving in the military today and in the future.  Moreover, any treatments that result from the research could benefit both veterans and non-veterans with ALS.

The Advisory Committee report, “Scientific Progress in Understanding Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses:  Report and Recommendations,” is available at http://www1.va.gov/rac-gwvi/docs/ReportandRecommendations_2004.pdf.

For more information, on the report issued by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, please contact Pat Wildman, director of federal advocacy outreach, at pwildman@alsa-national.org or (877) 444-ALSA (2572).

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