Spending pledge on Gulf War sickness

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The Independent Online
The Government yesterday announced a 20-point plan to increase the practical help given to victims of Gulf War illness and a "new beginning" to finding out what had happened to them.

In the last six months the number of British servicemen and women reporting unexplained symptoms has increased from 1,100 to 1,800.

John Reid, the Armed Forces minister, told Parliament he was setting out a comprehensive strategy for dealing with veterans' concerns and finding out what caused the illness or illnesses. He remained convinced that although mistakes might have been made, they had arisen from the best motives. "We question no one's motives," he said. "We took what measures we thought to be necessary to protect our troops."

He also said he supported the British system of "no-fault compensation", paid as part of war pensions, which are given independently of any other service pensions. So far, 1,265 Gulf War veterans have applied for war pensions including 295 for symptoms arising from Gulf War illness. So far, 134 have been awarded to these applicants.

Gulf veterans welcomed yesterday's announcement which met their demands for speeding up research, particularly into the vaccinations against biological warfare agents - bubonic plague, anthrax and whooping cough - which many think may be to blame.

Yesterday's MoD statement said that in 1990 - before the Gulf War - the Department of Health had reported that mice which had been given anthrax and whooping cough vaccine together in a test at the National Institute of Biological Standards and Control had suffered serious weight loss and illness. The data is no longer available, because the NIBSC destroyed it. Dr Reid has ordered a renewed investigation.

Tony Flint, who served in the Gulf and is now suffering from a form of glandular fever, emphysema, nerve damage and weight loss, said yesterday he thought the vaccines "were going to be the biggest culprit". He added: "The reason we've come to that conclusion is because the commander of the French forces refused to allow any of his men to have the vaccines or any of the anti-nerve agent tablets and none of them were ill."

The Government said it will roughly double to pounds 6.5m over the next three years its spending on investigations into the mysterious illness or illnesses, including pounds 2.25m of research at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down.

Among the 20 points announced yesterday are new studies into the combinations of vaccines and anti-nerve gas tablets given to troops. The Government has also recalled the RAF doctor, Group Captain Bill Coker, who conducted the first investigations into Gulf War illness.

Dr Reid said: "We will ensure Gulf veterans have prompt access to medical advice and we will ensure the MoD make available to the public and, in particular, Gulf War veterans, any available information."

Among the new measures announced are studies into the effect of the simultaneous inoculations against anthrax and whooping cough given to all troops serving on land. The latter was administered as an "adjuvant" (an accelerating agent) to enhance the anthrax vaccine. .