Iraqi tank in Kuwait, 1991

Iraqi tank in Kuwait, 1991

A congressionally mandated report concluded that Gulf War syndrome is a legitimate illness suffered by war veterans who were exposed to chemical toxins in the 1991 Gulf War. It is a physical condition distinct from the mental “shell shock” suffered by veterans in other wars.

The report identifies two Gulf War neurotoxic exposures that “are causally associated with Gulf War illness”: ingestion of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills, given to protect troops from effects of nerve agents; and exposure to dangerous pesticides used during the conflict.

Previous researches showed no evidence of a special syndrome, linking it instead to usual stress-related illnesses. A 1998 research found no difference in hospitalization rates between Iraq War veterans and other veterans.

Back in 1993, the question was posed seriously but no definitive conclusion to differentiate between Gulf War syndrome and stress.

Experts say such problems begin with real suffering that is often dismissed as psychosomatic — or, to use a more contemporary counterpart, “stress related.” Among many complaints of this sort, the ones closest to acquiring status as recognized diseases are “sick building syndrome” and “multiple chemical sensitivity.”

In 1991, a VA-sponsored research found no evidence of a special illness:, once again relating GWS with stress or shell-shock:

“There’s no unique pattern of symptoms. Every pattern identified in Gulf War veterans also seems to exist in other veterans, though it is important to note the symptom rate is higher, and it is a serious issue.”


At around same time some argued the depleted uranium shells fired at Iraqi forces were behind the syndrome (a conspiracy theory that still holds adepts):

Upon impact, the uranium in these shells oxidizes into a fine mist which can be readily inhaled into the lungs and which contaminates food and water supplies. Iraqi doctors report that cancer rates are now four times higher than in 1991 and that this epidemic is killing thousands of Iraqis near the war zone, including children who weren’t even born during the war.