Gulf syndrome victims are heard at last

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Veterans were "dismissed as trouble-makers" when they complained of a range of debilitating illnesses after the Gulf War in 1991, the first day of an independent inquiry into the suspected syndrome was told yesterday.

Veterans were "dismissed as trouble-makers" when they complained of a range of debilitating illnesses after the Gulf War in 1991, the first day of an independent inquiry into the suspected syndrome was told yesterday.

The three-week hearing in London, headed by the former Lord Justice of Appeal Lord Lloyd of Berwick, will take evidence from 30 ex-servicemen, medical experts and government representatives in an attempt to establish the facts about Gulf War illnesses.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has always denied the existence of "Gulf War syndrome", insisting there was no single cause of the illnesses suffered by veterans of the conflict.

Flight Lieutenant John Nichol, who became a familiar face during the war when he was captured by the Iraqis and paraded on television, told the inquiry yesterday that more than 637 previously young and fit servicemen had died since the end of the war. Of the 5,585 who had been granted disablement, 1,388 had specified conditions related to Gulf War illness, he said.

He said that those afflicted had been rebuffed and treated like the enemy. "When the veterans were begging for advice, begging for answers, they were being fobbed off and dismissed as trouble-makers," he said. He added that the MoD had failed to heed warnings about the dangers of the cocktail of drugs given to servicemen and women in 1990 and 1991.

Flt Lt Nichol, a former RAF Tornado navigator and president of the Gulf Veterans branch of the Royal British Legion, said he considered himself lucky not to have returned with the same health problems as many of his comrades. He said many had been "assaulted" by multiple inoculations programmes, including anthrax and plague, mass use of nerve agent pre-treatment tablets, heavy use of pesticides, atmospheric pollution from burning oil wells, possible exposure to nerve agents when storage facilities were destroyed and depleted uranium dust.

Sufferers displayed a variety of symptoms - chronic fatigue, memory loss, depression, mood swings and aching joints - and some developed cancer. Of the 53,000 servicemen and women deployed, about 6,000 had complained of health problems, the inquiry heard, while others suffered in silence.

Flt Lt Nichol said the MoD had spent £8.5m researching the illnesses since 1997, approximately the same amount as its annual entertainment budget.

Lord Lloyd also heard from Samantha Thompson, whose husband, a naval officer, died two years ago of motor neurone disease, a condition which is more than twice as prevalent among Gulf War veterans than others of their age-group. She said the authorities in America recognised that the disease was attributable to the conflict. "For my daughter Hannah, I want her to see her father's death has been thoroughly investigated," she said.

Shaun Rusling, who won an important ruling two years ago when a War Pensions Agency tribunal officially recognised Gulf War syndrome as a disease, also appeared at the inquiry.

The inquiry, which is independent from the Government, is funded by an anonymous donor and cannot demand evidence from the MoD or the Department of Health. Lord Lloyd has written to the departments requesting they take part in the hearings, but they have yet to respond. Lord Lloyd said: "I hope very much they will co-operate with this inquiry. It seems to me they have nothing to lose from doing so."

Lord Lloyd, 75, will sit alongside Dr Norman Jones, treasurer of the Royal College of Physicians, and Sir Michael Davies, formerly clerk of the parliaments. The donor, who is meeting the costs of between £50,000 and £100,000, is said to be concerned about the welfare of ex-servicemen and women.

The MoD and the Department of Health said they were considering whether to give evidence to the inquiry, which was described by Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, as "long overdue".

The inquiry was adjourned until next Monday.

'EVERY WEEK YOU HEAR OF SOMEONE ELSE WHO HAS DIED'

Major Christine Lloyd considered herself 100 per cent fit when she volunteered to go to the Gulf in 1990 as a nursing officer; two months later, she returned exhausted, permanently aching and unable to concentrate long enough to administer medication.

Yesterday she told the independent inquiry that she attributed her continuing ill health to the cocktail of vaccines and drugs she was given.

Ms Lloyd was a 43-year-old reservist when she answered a call for medical volunteers. Before she left Britain in January 1991 she was given seven inoculations, including one described as "biological", which she later realised was anthrax.

Two weeks later she arrived in Saudi Arabia to help set up a field hospital and prepare for what they believed would be a major influx of casualties. She noticed that the area was being sprayed with pesticides, including organophosphates, the safety of which is now questioned.

The stress of Scud missile alerts was compounded by the poor facilities, she said. Many of the drugs dispatched to the field hospital were out of date, she claimed, while the equipment looked like something more suited to the Second World War.

She began taking nerve agent pre-treatment (Naps) tablets and immediately became disoriented and dizzy. "The side effects of the Naps tablets continued: diarrhoea, frequency of urination and headaches," she added.

But there were more vaccines to come. In February she was given another series, including inoculations against anthrax and plague.

In mid-March she returned home. "After three weeks leave I returned to work. I was always exhausted. I had headaches. I couldn't concentrate. I was becoming a danger giving out medication. I had short-term memory loss. I could no longer walk up hills and mountains."

In October 1992 she was declared unfit for work, and still suffers from a range of problems. "Every week you hear of another colleague who has died ... We need to get to the bottom of this," she said.

Terri Judd

Comments