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VA conducts research to develop a single case definition for Gulf War illness

Military Exposures & Your Health: Information for Veterans who servedthe gulf war era and their families
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Gulf War illness affects about 30 percent of all Gulf War Veterans. Rather than a single condition, it is a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems.

Currently, there is no single case definition for Gulf War illness. The definitions that are most frequently used are referred to as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition and the Kansas definition. It has been recommended by various groups, including the National Academy of Medicine and the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, that VA develop a single case definition using information from VA’s vast data holdings. A single case definition would help VA improve the way in which they identify and treat Gulf War illness, handle claims, and conduct research on Gulf War Veterans.

VA has been working on developing a single case definition for Gulf War illness. Currently, VA is conducting two major studies towards this effort:

  1. The War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) in East Orange, NJ, is conducting a chart review study of all Gulf War Veterans who have visited a WRIISC clinic between 2001-2018 to determine a case definition that best fits their clinical presentation.
  2. The Post Deployment Health Services (PDHS) Epidemiology Program is partnering with Robert Bossarte, PhD, MA, of the VISN 2 Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center and West Virginia University, and with other partners (e.g., Harvard University investigators and topic area consultants) to conduct an analytic project where large VA datasets including information on more than 500,000 Gulf War and Gulf Era (those who did not deploy to the Gulf War but served during the same time period) Veterans will be combined to identify the diagnoses, laboratory results, and other health factors of Gulf War Veterans with symptoms consistent with Gulf War illness.

In addition, PDHS has been analyzing data from the Gulf War Registry and VA health care utilization records to determine the prevalence of various illnesses among Gulf War and Gulf Era Veterans who use VA for healthcare. Illnesses that are being looked at include respiratory diseases, cancers, and chronic medical conditions associated with Gulf War illness.

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