Nearly 17 years after troops returned from the first Gulf War suffering from mysterious symptoms the UK government is set to officially recognize Gulf War Syndrome.
The Manchester Evening News reported at the weekend that the Ministry of Defence will finally recognize the existence of Gulf War Syndrome after sustained pressure from veterans and their families, as well as many in the political and scientific arenas.
It seems Defence Minister Lord Drayson admitted the change of position to Manchester peer Lord Morris, who has been an outspoken critic of the way veterans have been treated. Lord Morris has consistently sought to bring the problems faced by veterans to the attention of those in power.
The MEN quotes Lord Drayson as saying: "The issue of Gulf War Syndrome will be fully recognised by the Ministry of Defence and I accept on behalf of the MoD that this issue has not been handled well from the beginning.
"The department was slow to recognise the emerging ill- health issues and to put measures in place to address them. We have apologised for this and I repeat that apology today."
The MoD has reportedly written to veterans to tell them they can use the term Gulf War Syndrome to describe their illness. They also said they are collaborating with doctors and other experts to develop a suitable rehabilitation program for those affected.
There is however no sign of an official announcement informing the public that Gulf War Syndrome is now officially recognised as an illness caused by service in the first Gulf War and no national media sources seem to be carrying the story.
If this does turn out to be an official recognition of Gulf War Syndrome it should make it much easier for thousands of veterans to secure pensions based on their ill-health. The situation was previously improved for veterans following a landmark tribunal appeal in October 2005, in which a sick veteran was awarded a military pension due to his illness. At that time the MoD said it accepted Gulf War Syndrome as a "useful umbrella term".
The allies have all been slow to officially recognize the syndrome but the UK has been one of the slowest. Towards the end of 2004 the US government performed a u-turn and conceded, after years of denials, that Gulf War Syndrome does exist as a distinct disease.
The American's official acceptance came after an official report from the US Department of Veterans Affairs Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses. The report concluded that, a substantial proportion of Gulf war veterans are ill with multisystem conditions not explained by wartime stress or psychiatric illness.
The report suggested illness had resulted from damage primarily caused by nerve gas and its antidotes, and organophosphate insecticides (OPs). All of these substances block an enzyme called cholinesterase which normally breaks down acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter involved in muscle contraction and important brain functions such as memory.