Some 350 sufferers are suing the Ministry of Defence for inadequate after-care.
Labour's defence spokesman, Dr David Clark, told the meeting that he intends calling for an immediate inquiry. 'This is the first time the veterans have spoken out,' he said. 'They have not been given a fair hearing and this problem must be investigated.' The MoD has refused to recognise the existence of the syndrome, insisting that the symptoms are a reflection of the stress of combat. However, the American authorities have provided financial support to sufferers and are funding research into its possible causes.
US statistics published yesterday disclosed that 2,174 veterans had died since returning from the Gulf. All had claimed to suffer from the syndrome. A total of 20,000 veterans have reported the syndrome. Wendy Morris, of the Trauma After Care Trust, which provides advice to sufferers, said that she had more than 1,000 cases in which servicemen and women had reported debilitating symptoms. About half of those seeking advice were still in the services.
Paul Ash, 27, a former fusilier, who organised the conference, said: 'Many are still in the military and it's difficult for them to go to their doctors or to step forward.' He left the Army after returning from the Gulf because of ill health.
American scientists have identified a range of possible causes. These include: exposure to the depleted uranium used in artillery and tank shells; side-effects of vaccinations given for anthrax and plague; effects of fumes from oil-well fires; and exposure to Iraqi chemical and biological weapons. The US Senate has disclosed that traces of nerve gas were identified in the war zone.
Robert Lake, a radar technician with the 4th Armoured Division, said he wanted the Government to disclose whether or not vaccines given to soldiers had been tested for human use; and whether Iraqi chemical or biological agents were detected in areas occupied by British troops.