Dallas epidemiologist praised for Gulf War Syndrome efforts
WFAA-TV, NEWS 8 - Dallas,TX,USA -July 1, 2004

Tens of thousands of veterans of the first Gulf War got good news this month: their illness is real, and they may be on the road to getting well.

Congressional hearings, along with a report from the General Accounting Office, finally confirmed there is a disease called Gulf War Syndrome.

It's been a long journey for the veterans, and for a Dallas scientist whose work is finally being validated.

From the deep leather chairs to the witness tables at the June hearings, the battle lines were drawn in a guerilla war.

"I'm sorry to interrupt this hearing to just express my feelings about the outrageous cooperation we've had from the military as it relates to this issue," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut. "There has to be an answer to this."

One side served in Iraq 12 years ago, and stands by its assertion that Gulf War Syndrome is a disease. They're defended by a growing number of scientists and some congressmen.

"Something is wrong here," said Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vermont. "We have evidence that over 26 percent of Gulf War vets were made casualties."

The other side wears dress greens and includes the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. For a decade, they've argued Gulf War Syndrome does not exist.

"They still cannot identify the cause," said the GAO's Dr. Janet Heinrich.

These days, the veterans are winning, and Dallas epidemiologist Dr. Robert Haley is getting recognition.

Haley's years of research indicates that vets were injured when ammunition dumps were destroyed during the first Gulf War. Deadly sarin nerve gas spewed into the air, and small amounts of the gas produced brain damage in thousands of vets not naturally immune to it.

"(There were) combinations of damage to brain cells in certain areas of the brain that damage receptors, so brain cells can't respond the way they should," said Haley, director of the Division of Epidemiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Haley's science has been aided by information released in a recent report from the General Accounting office. The GAO found sarin gas may have spread more widely than expected when ammunition dumps were blown up in Iraq. One map shows that plumes of the gas covered hundreds of square miles in southern Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the first Gulf War.

Now Haley, who was ridiculed for bad science just a few years ago, is getting credit for advancing the knowledge of Gulf War Syndrome around the world.

"Professor Haley has been very widely read and is very highly regarded on both sides of the British Parliament," said Lord Morris of Britain's House of Lords.

"Haley has been the guy out there with the spear advancing on this evil for many, many years," said Dr. Jim Binns of the Gulf War Veterans Committee. "He's made continued advances."

Always a scientist first, Haley does not gloat. But he doesn't mince words, either.

"We're really pleased that the government now has reached a consensus that there is a Gulf War Syndrome, that it involves some kind of brain cell damage, and that sarin nerve gas is probably a major contributor to it," he said.

Members of one House subcommittee accuse the Department of Defense with suppressing evidence in Gulf War Syndrome. They said the DOD disguised the fact that American troops were ever exposed to sarin gas. But, they said, when a home video of Iraqi ammunition dumps was discovered, the DOD finally admitted that sarin gas exposures occurred.

"The DOD was trying to keep from the world community, and from this committee and others, the fact that our troops had been exposed," Shays said.

Lucky for those troops, Haley won't disappear in a cloud of dust.