- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tom Donnelly didn't need a government study to tell him that his son's debilitating disease is linked to his service in the Persian Gulf war.
But after years of lobbying the Pentagon on the issue, he welcomed the official news: Americans who served in the Gulf war were nearly twice as likely to develop Lou Gehrig's disease as other military personnel.
"This is scientific proof positive," Mr. Donnelly said. "I feel the government finally has done at the end of 10 years what it should have done then take this thing seriously."
The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday it would immediately offer disability and survivor benefits to veterans with the disease who served in the Persian Gulf during the conflict a decade ago.
"The hazards of the modern day battlefield are more than bullet wounds and saber cuts," said Anthony J. Principi, secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The new research, which included nearly 2.5 million military personnel, is one of the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted and offers the most conclusive evidence to date linking Gulf war veterans to a disease. Still, researchers don't know why these veterans were more likely to get sick.
The study, funded by the Defense Department, compared nearly 700,000 military personnel who served in the Gulf war between August 1990 and July 1991 with 1.8 million personnel who were not deployed to the region. It found that those who were deployed were nearly twice as likely to develop amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the scientific name for Lou Gehrig's disease.
Researchers worked with health associations, VA hospitals and veterans organizations and examined death certificates to find 40 Gulf veterans with ALS. About half of them have already died. Sixty-seven cases were found among other military personnel.
Among Gulf war veterans, the rate of disease was 6.7 persons per million. Among other military personnel, it was 3.5 per million.
The top health official at the Defense Department, Dr. Bill Winkenwerder Jr., said Monday that the conclusions are "not the study results we'd like to report." He allowed that Pentagon officials have taken complaints about Gulf war illnesses less seriously in the past.
"There's been a maturation of thinking about health risks associated with deployed military service," said Dr. Winkenwerder, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
In October, a federally funded study suggested children of Gulf war veterans are two to three times as likely as those of other vets to have birth defects, but defense officials questioned the research methodology and were skeptical of the results.
The results have not yet been reviewed by other scientists or published in an academic journal, and officials cautioned that they are preliminary. They said they were releasing them now to prevent further delay in compensating victims of the progressive, fatal disease.
"They need help now and we will offer them that help," Mr. Principi said.
To qualify for benefits after leaving the military, veterans must prove that their illnesses are related to military service. Mr. Principi said all those with ALS who served in the Gulf war will be automatically approved.
About 5,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with ALS, a fatal disease of the nervous system whereby muscles stop receiving signals to operate.

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