1999 Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses
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The Secretary of Veterans Affairs is required to submit an annual report on the results, status, and priorities of research activities related to the health consequences of military service in the Gulf War, to the Senate and House Veterans' Affairs Committees. The Research Working Group (RWG) of the Persian Gulf Veterans Coordinating Board (PGVCB) prepared this document, the 1999 Annual Report to Congress, which is the sixth report on research activities. (PGVCB, 1995a; 1996a; 1997; 1998; 1999a)
This Annual Report is divided into seven sections. Section I is an introduction. Section II highlights and summarizes research progress since the last Annual Report. Section III is an analysis of the Federal Government's portfolio of research on Gulf War veterans' illnesses. Section IV highlights significant research and research-related events and milestones since the last Annual Report. Section V discusses three national research conferences focusing on illnesses in Gulf War veterans. Section VI discusses the management of Federal Gulf War veterans' illnesses research programs, including research oversight, peer review, and coordination. Section VII discusses priorities established in 1995, 1996, and 1998 for future new research, and highlights the progress made to date.
II. RESEARCH RESULTS IN 1999
In the past year, there have been several research studies that have yielded results that provide new and expanded information on the health problems of Gulf War veterans. Section II provides brief summaries of research projects for which results were published from January 1999 to March 2000. The RWG tracks all Federally funded research projects reported to the RWG related to Gulf War veterans' illnesses.
As in previous reports to Congress, research has been categorized according to the particular focus of the research. The research reports summarized in Section II are grouped according to seven focus areas: symptoms and general health status, brain and nervous system function, diagnosis, depleted uranium, chemical weapons, pyridostigmine bromide, and interactions of exposures.
1. Symptoms and General Health Status:
Six large studies were published that focused on symptoms and general health, including causes of hospitalization. (Black, et al, 2000; Gray, et al, 1999a; Gray, et al, 2000; Kipen, et al, 1999; McCauley, et al, 1999a; McCauley, et al, 1999b) These publications provided the results of studies conducted at four research centers in San Diego, Portland, Oregon, Iowa, and New Jersey. Each of these studies included at least several hundred individuals, and four of these studies were population-based. This means that the results of these four studies may have implications for the overall population of 697,000 Gulf War veterans. (Gray, et al, 2000; McCauley, et al, 1999a; McCauley, et al, 1999b; Black, et al, 2000)
2. Brain and Nervous System Function:
Seven studies were published that focused on brain and nervous system function, including posttraumatic stress disorder, major depression, and neuropsychological functioning. (Anger, et al, 1999; Binder, et al, 1999; Dlugosz, et al, 1999; Lange, et al, 1999; Wagner, et al, 2000; Wolfe, et al, 1999a; Wolfe, et al, 1999b) These publications provided the results of studies conducted at four research centers in San Diego, Portland, Oregon, Boston, and New Jersey. All four of these research centers utilized psychological and/or neurological evaluations, rather than relying solely on self-administered surveys. Two of these centers used population-based samples. (Dlugosz, et al, 1999; Anger, et al, 1999; Binder, et al, 1999)
Two studies were published that focused on the diagnosis of infectious diseases in Gulf War veterans, including one study on Mycoplasma fermentans, and one study on four types of herpesviruses. (Gray, et al, 1999b; Wallace, et al, 1999)
4. Depleted Uranium:
Four studies were published that focused on the effects of depleted uranium (DU), including two studies of Gulf War veterans who were wounded in friendly fire incidents, and two studies of rats treated with DU pellets implanted into muscles. (Hooper, et al, 1999; McDiarmid, et al, 2000; Pellmar, et al, 1999a; Pellmar, et al, 1999b)
5. Chemical Weapons:
Two studies were published that focused on the effects of chemical weapons, including one study of Gulf War veterans who had potential exposures to very low-levels of sarin due to the demolitions at Khamisiyah, Iraq, and one study of monkeys exposed to low-level sarin. (Gray , et al, 1999c; Pearce, et al, 1999)
6. Pyridostigmine Bromide (PB):
Four studies were published that focused on the effects of pyridostigmine bromide (PB), including one study of Gulf War veterans, and three laboratory experiments. (Drake-Baumann and Seil, 1999; Hoy, et al, 1999; Kaiser, et al, 2000; Van Haaren, et al, 1999)
7. Interactions of Exposures:
Two animal studies were published that focused on the health effects of interactions of exposures, including one study of the combination of PB plus swimming stress, and one study of the combination of PB plus DEET. (Chaney, et al, 1999; Telang, et al, 1999)
III. RESEARCH FUNDING TRENDS
The Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses research portfolio currently includes 192 projects. These Federal research projects are sponsored by the VA, DoD, or HHS. The scope of the Federal research portfolio is broad, from small pilot studies to large-scale epidemiology studies involving large populations and major research center programs. Currently, the Federal Government is projecting cumulative expenditures of $154.5 million for research from FY 1994 through FY 2000. As of March 31, 2000, 83 projects were completed and 109 projects were ongoing. The overall emphasis of research has been greatest in the focus areas of Symptoms and General Health Status, and Brain and Nervous System Function. The numbers of projects in each focus area are examined in more detail in Section III.
IV. NEW RESEARCH PROJECTS AND INITIATIVES
Besides new research findings appearing in the published scientific literature, there have been several important events since last year's Annual Report to Congress that deserve discussion. These include the awarding of new research projects and the development of new research initiatives including solicitations for new research proposals.
IV.A. NEW RESEARCH PROJECTS<
IV.A.1. New Epidemiology Research on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Recently, some concern has arisen regarding a possible elevated occurrence of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) among veterans who served in the Gulf War, a relatively young population. This epidemiologic investigation of ALS among Gulf War veterans will define the epidemiology of this neurological disease, to determine if there is a higher than expected incidence. This project is jointly funded by DoD and VA (projects DoD-118 and VA-61). Procedures to identify ALS cases began in March 2000. Complete ascertainment and comprehensive evaluation of ALS cases will occur over a one-year period.
IV.A.2. New Projects Funded by the 1999 DoD Broad Agency Announcements
In 1998, DoD established new funding for programmed research. The purpose of this program element funding is to address Gulf War Illnesses issues, which may also be of concern in future deployments. This planned funding is approximately $20 million per year for fiscal year 1999 through fiscal year 2002 and $5 million per year thereafter. DoD published five Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs) in early 1999. In response to these 5 BAAs, 21 new DoD funded projects were initiated in FY 1999 (DoD-94 to DoD-114), at a total cost of $16.7 million. There were:
- 7 projects related to Force health protection-deployment health,
- 2 projects related to Multidisciplinary studies of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple chemical sensitivity,
- 5 projects related to Psychosocial and neuroscience research on stress and somatic consequences,
- 2 projects related to Innovative toxicological methods and models for assessing mixed chemical exposures, and
- 5 projects related to Interactions of drugs, biologics, and chemicals in service members in deployment environments.
IV.A.3. Two New Research Centers Funded by the 1999 VA Request for Proposals for Environmental Hazard Research Centers
In 1999, VA issued a Request for Proposals to establish Environmental Hazard Research Centers, which were intended to have a broad mission that included environmental exposures that may have occurred during active military duty, without specific reference to the Gulf War or Vietnam War. Two new Centers were funded on April 1, 2000 (Projects VA-64 and VA-65). Each Center is funded for up to 5 years, for a maximum of $1.6 million. The Boston Center (VA-64) has received new funding in 2000 to continue their ongoing environmental research program in the field of behavioral neurotoxicology. The San Antonio EHRC (VA-65) is a new Center funded in 2000. The Center's overall goal is to build upon its previous work, which focused on the role of oxidative damage, and on the roles that individual genetic variations play in the responses to injury from environmental exposures.
IV.A.4. Millennium Cohort Study
The Millennium Cohort Study, a prospective study of U.S. military forces, responds to the need to systematically collect population-based demographic and health data to evaluate the health of service personnel throughout their military careers and after leaving military service. The Millennium Cohort study is a probability-based, cross-sectional sample of 100,000 U.S. military personnel that will be followed prospectively by postal surveys every 3 years over a 21-year period, starting in late 2000. In October 2004 and October 2007, 20,000 new military personnel will be added to the cohort. The total of 140,000 veterans will be followed until the year 2022. The principal objective of the study is to evaluate the impact of military deployments on various measures of health over time, including medically unexplained symptoms and chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
IV.B. NEW RESEARCH INITIATIVES
IV.B.1. DoD Broad Agency Announcement Solicitations for New Research in 2000
DoD published four Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs) in early 2000 related to illnesses in Gulf War veterans, with a deadline of July 26, 2000. The specific requests focused on the following areas of research interest:
- Epidemiological Investigations of Deployment Health Monitoring Methods
- Deployment Stress Health and Performance Consequences
- Biochemical and Physiological Markers to Assess Toxic Chemical Exposures and Health Effects in Deployed Military Personnel
- Toxicity of Militarily Relevant Heavy Metals
IV.B.2. IOM Study on Identifying Effective Treatments for Gulf War Veterans' Health Problems
In 1999, VA requested the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to perform an 18-month study to identify effective treatments for health problems in Gulf War veterans. The IOM committee held its first meeting in February 2000. The committee's charge is threefold, as follows:
1. Identify and describe approaches for assessing treatment effectiveness.
2. Identify illnesses and conditions common among Gulf War veterans, including medically unexplained symptoms, using data obtained from the VA and DoD Gulf War registries, as well as information in published articles.
3. Identify validated models of treatment for these identified conditions and illnesses. The sources for these models include published literature, clinical practice guidelines developed by medical specialty societies, and other sources as appropriate.
V. NATIONAL RESEARCH CONFERENCES
1. 1999 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Conference-The Health
the Gulf War: A Research Planning Conference
From February 28 through March 2, 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The purpose of this conference was to discuss and make recommendations regarding the direction of future research on undiagnosed illnesses among Gulf War veterans and the possible links between these illnesses and multiple chemical and environmental exposures. In March 2000, CDC published a final conference report, entitled The Health Impact of Chemical Exposures During the Gulf War: A Research Planning Conference. (CDC, 2000)
2. 1999 Conference on Federally Sponsored Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Research
The RWG organized and hosted an international meeting, entitled "Conference on Federally Sponsored Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Research," on June 23-25, 1999 in Arlington, Virginia. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together Federally sponsored researchers on Gulf War veterans' illnesses in a common forum. This was the fourth such conference, and it was attended by more than 300 scientists, clinicians, government officials, and veterans. The Proceedings for this conference were published in late 1999. (PGVCB, 1999b)
3. 2001 Conference on Federally Sponsored Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Research
In 2001, the RWG will host another international conference in Alexandria, Virginia. The overall purpose and goals of the meeting will be similar to the 1999 meeting. In addition, new research findings will be placed within the context of the implications of the completed research to date. The 2001 conference title, "Illnesses in Gulf War Veterans: A Decade of Scientific Research" will reflect this emphasis.
VI. RESEARCH MANAGEMENT
The RWG has accomplished several notable achievements, including:
· Development, production, and dissemination of the 1995 A Working Plan for Research on Persian Gulf Veterans' Illness (PGVCB, 1995b), and its 1996 revision (PGVCB, 1996b);
· Production and dissemination of Annual Reports to Congress for 1994 through 1999 on results, status, and priorities of Federal research activities (PGVCB, 1995a; 1996a; 1997; 1998; 1999a);
· Secondary programmatic review and recommendations on research proposals that have been competitively reviewed by funding agencies;
· Organization of meetings of Federally funded researchers (four meetings, fifth in planning);
· Coordination and oversight of implementation of relevant recommendations of the Institute of Medicine, Presidential Advisory Committee, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and the Presidential Review Directive 5 (IOM, 1995, 1996; PAC, 1996a, 1996b, 1997; SVAC, 1998; NSTC, 1998); and
· Two national treatment trials (exercise/behavior therapy trial and antibiotic treatment trial).
VII. RESEARCH PRIORITIES
The RWG has identified three sets of research priorities in 1995, 1996, and 1998 (PGVCB, 1995b; PGVCB, 1996b; PGVCB, 1999a). Substantial progress has been made on each of these sets of priorities, which is detailed in Section VII.