As thousands of American troops head home from Iraq and Afghanistan, many veterans still suffer from a war fought more than twenty years ago.
Now, a Baylor research team hopes to find answers about Gulf War Illness and develop effective treatments for the debilitating condition.
Dr. Lea Steele headed the one of the first scientific panels to study what was then known as Gulf War Syndrome. Now armed with a $2.6 million grant from the Department of Defense, Dr. Steele, along with Scott and White Hospital, is determined to find a cure.
"There was a consistent pattern that we saw in thousands and thousands of veterans," she said. "Chronic headache, persistent memory problems, concentration problems, widespread pain."
Now, Gulf War Illness is a recognized medical condition. Experts say one out of four veterans from the war suffers from it—about 200,000 in all.
So far, they know that it is not stress-related or psychological.
"Some of them are quite, quite sick,” Dr. Steele said. “They are unable to work. Their symptoms are so severe they can't hold a job."
Many of these veterans have been suffering for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until recently that researchers determined probably three major factors in contracting the disease.
"The low-level exposure to nerve agents, the use of the Pyridostigmine bromide and the overuse of pesticides," Dr. Steele said.
The soldiers were administered Pyridostigmine bromide in pills, as a nerve agent antidote.
"Nerve gas, these little white pills, the Pyridostigmine bromide pills, and pesticides many of them have them same chemical action on the brain," Dr. Steele said.
The grant will fund a comprehensive approach to the illness.
"We are just on the brink of being about to figure out one, how to diagnose it better and two, how to treat it," the doctor said.
Starting this spring, Dr. Steele will begin clinical research on Gulf War vets. She says Central Texas has one of the largest groups of Desert Storm veterans in the country.