Veteran Experiences: Gulf War Veterans

The First Gulf War, also commonly referred to as Operation Desert Storm, was a short international conflict that took place in Iraq after the country invaded Kuwait in August of 1990 under the leadership of then-president Saddam Hussein. A large international alliance, including many Arab countries and NATO allies, condemned the invasion and demanded that Iraq cease its aggression against Kuwait. When Hussein failed to withdraw his troops, the United States and its allies launched Operation Desert Storm, a massive airstrike campaign, in January of 1991. By the end of February 1991, President George HW Bush declared a cease-fire after a brief ground offensive.

Who Are Gulf War Veterans?

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), “anyone who served on active duty from August 2, 1990, to present is considered a Gulf War Veteran.” More than 650,000 service members served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (the First Gulf War).

Issues Faced by Veterans of the Gulf War

In spite of how quickly the Gulf War was won and the relatively few casualties incurred by US troops, many Gulf War Veterans still live with long-term consequences of their service, mainly chronic health issues. These include:

  • Gulf War Syndrome. Also known as Gulf War Illness, Gulf War Syndrome is the name for a mysterious constellation of symptoms that many veterans of the Gulf War began to exhibit in the years after returning home. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle and joint pain, dizziness, memory lapses, headaches, rashes, diarrhea, and more. Only in recent years have researchers been able to confidently pinpoint exposure to the chemical weapon sarin as the likely cause. Around 250,000 veterans are believed to have been affected by Gulf War Syndrome.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to the VA, around 12% of Gulf War veterans suffer from PTSD.

  • Toxic Exposure. In addition to sarin, exposure to other environmental toxins is thought to have caused negative health outcomes for many Gulf War Veterans. Other potential toxins include pesticides, pyridostigmine bromide (PB) (which, ironically, was given in pill form to protect troops against nerve gas), oil well fires, and more .

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