One in three soldiers returns from the Middle East sick. They are sick with what is sometimes called exposure injuries, chronic multi-symptom illness, or Gulf War Syndrome, but what are all the same thing: chronic, long-term illness as a result of deployment to the Middle East. These illnesses cover a wide range, from inconvenient to life-threatening, across different and varied bodily systems.
The illnesses aren’t obvious.
Suffering veterans often appear outwardly fine, but their bodies (particularly lung, heart, gastrointestinal systems) may be deteriorating, making these injuries a top reason for post-deployment hospital visits. Exposure injuries aren’t just one illness—they can be a range of symptoms across different bodily systems, and are different for each veteran. These include physical signs or symptoms, often referred to as “unexplained” due to medical coding practices, and are associated with diminished or compromised function of the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, neurological, or other major systems. Veterans’ sicknesses can involve severe pain from nerve damage and suppression of the immune system. They may begin during or after military deployment.
The illnesses aren’t well understood.
Clinical research has only just begun to explore causes and correlations, the first step in prevention and treatment. Research currently indicates that exposure to battlefield toxins is the most likely cause, but is not conclusive. Still, the impact of these exposures and how they may interact with other factors, such as genetic makeup, is not fully understood. Because we do not know how how exposures damage the body, we also do not know how to cure them or prevent them. And most victims don’t know their symptoms are a result of post-deployment illness and are not getting the treatment they need from doctors familiar with the conditions.
But the illnesses are real.
More than a half million returning veterans are sick—not with mental illness, or PTSD, but with these often misdiagnosed symptoms that affect their lungs, hearts, brains, and other systems. These are real illnesses, like any other, affecting our sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers.