Syndrome still a problem
for Gulf veterans
Story © 2000-2004
Vincent Z. Whaley and the Johnson
City Press, 204 W. Main St., Johnson City,
Tennessee 37605, 423.929.3111.
By Vincent Z. Whaley
City Press Staff Writer
(Published Sunday, Oct. 1, 2000)
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. Of the more than 697,000
military service members who served in the Persian
Gulf War 10 years ago, thousands claim they still
suffer from ailments that have been dubbed Gulf
Gray resident Gary Ferguson, 53, who served as
a staff sergeant in the local Army National Guard
176th Maintenance Battalion, said he has experienced
the majority of symptoms associated with the syndrome.
"I have had night sweats, joint ache, memory
loss, muscle cramps, stomach cramps, tennis elbow
and runner's knee," he said. "Most of
the problems I've had, the (Department of Veterans
Affairs) has said they were all related to combat
stress. I couldn't play tennis, because it hurt
my arms to hit the ball. I had no energy. Walking
was an experience. I just had to sit down and
According to data compiled by the VA, the 10 most
frequent complaints among 52,835 veterans listed
on the Persian Gulf Veterans Health Registry in
1997 were fatigue, skin rash, headache, muscle
and joint pain, loss of memory and other general
symptoms, shortness of breath, sleep disturbances,
diarrhea and other GI symptoms, other symptoms
involving skin and integumentary tissue and chest
"Although his symptoms are "not as bad
as they used to be," Ferguson said he stopped
seeking help from the VA a few years ago due to
"frustration with the system."
"The VA has not done a thing except put me
off and put off," he said. "I went to
several doctors when I came back home from the
war and continued to do so for two years after
the war. They even found something in my blood
that was a mystery to the doctors. After that,
the doctors became secretive and said they couldn't
talk to me about my problems anymore. So I stopped
going because it wasn't doing me any good."
Aside from inhaling fumes and smoke from numerous
burning Kuwaiti oil wells, Ferguson believes his
symptoms are the result of taking pyridostigmine
bromide an experimental drug for pretreatment
of nerve gas exposure and other chemical
"During the day, it was a total blackout,"
he said. "You were breathing the oil and
wearing the oil. You couldn't take a bath. You
couldn't clean up. And when you tried to eat,
it was on your food, because the oil was like
rain. And we were guinea pigs on the anthrax pill.
Some troops got nauseated and some of them got
a buzz off of it, because it was an adrenaline
rush to speed up the metabolism in the body.
"I think this all goes back to Agent Orange
and the Vietnam War. The VA just keeps putting
the vets off. The longer they can put it off,
the longer vets can keep dying on them."
Locally that isn't the case, according to Phyllis
Deel, a nurse practitioner and Gulf War coordinator
at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Mountain
"We are trying to make everything accessible
for our veterans, and we are very concerned about
their health," she said. "The major
concern of all local veterans is overall health.
They want to be healthy, and we want them to be
as healthy as they can be. That's why we offer
many services to our veterans, especially to those
who served in the Gulf War."
Deel said approximately 1,367 local Gulf War veterans
have sought help and received treatment at the
Mountain Home facility. Of that number, 772 have
completed physical examinations to be listed on
the VA's Persian Gulf Veterans Health Registry.
"The registry program offers a free, complete
physical examination with basic laboratory studies
to every Gulf War veteran, even if they are not
suffering from any symptoms," she said. "A
complete medical history is also performed and
documented in the veteran's medical record.
"Of the 772 local veterans, 30 have gone
on to complete Phase II applications, in which
we send them to a VA medical center in Washington
to undergo further examinations and laboratory
tests to help better diagnose their problems."
While the Pentagon and Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention have also spent millions searching
for causes of Gulf War Syndrome, Deel said she
expects research will be conducted for many years
"A good majority of Gulf War veterans also
served in Vietnam, and like the Vietnam War, I
feel as if it will take scientists many years
to resolve those health issues and rule everything
out," she said.
"Until then, we at the Medical Center at
Mountain Home will do everything in our power
to help these veterans."
All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.