Respected celebrities write to Chancellor Gordon Brown urging recognition of Gulf War syndrome and fair treatment for affected veterans.
The British Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has received a letter from Dame Vera Lynn and Sir Jackie Stewart expressing their dislike for the 'appalling' way sick Gulf War veterans are still being treated in the UK.
Dame Vera, the singer who was nicknamed "Forces Sweetheart" for entertaining and supporting troops during WWII, has teamed up with Formula One racing legend Sir Jackie to accuse the Ministry of Defence of "haggling, procrastinating and worse" over the treatment of 6,000 veterans of the first Gulf War who are suffering from war related illnesses that have come to be known as Gulf War syndrome.
Many of the thousands of veterans affected by ill health have received little support and medical help. The UK government has repeatedly resorted to legal challenges to help it shirk its responsibilities to the Gulf War veterans and even continues to deny that the troops illnesses have anything to do with their service in the Gulf.
Dame Vera and Sir Jackie point to the fact that the US government, in contrast to the UK position, openly acknowledges a causal link between the conflict and the illnesses. Indeed, the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) has a dedicated veterans health department which undertakes studies into Gulf War related illnesses. In 2000 this department, in cooperation with The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Public Health and Science, the National Institutes of Health, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, laid out extensive plans for research into the health effects that various chemicals had on troops in the Gulf War. Much of this research has been carried out over the ensuing years and reports on the results are now available on the CDC's website.
Still more funds were last month approved for Gulf War syndrome research by the US government, with Dr. Robert Haley from The University of Texas Southwest Medical Center in Dallas awarded $75m over 5 years to continue epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory research into veterans illnesses.
The situation in the UK is vastly different, with little help from the government, independent researchers, such as Professor Malcolm Hooper of The University of Sunderland, have had to take the initiative in seeking the biological causes behind veterans illnesses.
The Guardian newspaper reports that the letter sent to The Chancellor includes the following comments:
".. here, our veterans who fought shoulder to shoulder with US troops in liberating Kuwait have been subjected to endless and expensive legal haggling in courts and tribunals."
"Moreover the Ministry of Defence refuses even to tell parliamentarians how much it has spent on legal costs, met by taxpayers. Do you know? If not, is it not by any definition a scandal? But if you do know, so surely should other parliamentarians - and Gulf War veterans."
"As of now all they know for sure about the MoD's spending is that its entertainment budget for a single year exceeded all its expenditure on research into Gulf War illnesses since the conflict, and what they read about is the reporting of the cost of the MoD's new headquarters with its 'restaurant, coffee bar, oak doors, marble floors, plasma screens and quiet rooms for staff to relax', now estimated to be £2.35 billion."
These revelations surely are a scandal by any measure. If it were not bad enough that the Ministry of Defence would rather pay legal fees than doctors fees for the proper care of British Gulf War veterans, the news that the departments entertainment budget for a year amounts to more than what has been spent on Gulf War syndrome research since the war ended in 1991 is simply disgraceful.
In the letter Dame Vera Lynn and Sir Jackie Stewart call on Mr Brown personally to bring this "appalling state of affairs to an honourable closure".