Today the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a draft report from the Gulf War Veterans' Illness Task Force on the current state of Gulf War Veterans' health in the hopes to gather public opinion and comments in an on-going effort to improve the quality of medical care and types of medical services offered. Further, the draft report calls for an improvement in addressing the medical needs of Gulf War Veterans with “multi-symptom” illnesses and expanding the scope of clinical studies.

Created to address the growing and specific health concerns of those veterans who served in the Gulf War between 1990 and 1991, the Gulf War Veterans' Illness Task Force has offered directives to the VA on behalf of these veterans. At the crux of the mission of the Task Force is to ensure that Gulf War Veterans' health ever-changing health needs are met with support and care by the VA.

Due to the unique nature of the Gulf War, many of those who served face severe, oftentimes debilitating, medical conditions other veterans who served in different wars and regions do not face.

In particular, Gulf War Veterans were exposed to a variety of environmental toxins, including asbestos. During the fires in Kuwait and other locations, many older buildings were burned that contained asbestos. Though the asbestos exposure was immediate, the development of symptoms related to that exposure takes many years, upwards of decades in some cases.

Among the medical conditions caused by asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a form of cancer that can affect the protective lining of the lungs. Though asbestos exposure and the later development of mesothelioma in veterans is not uncommon – particularly for those who served in Navy shipyards – Gulf War Veterans are at a particular health risk.

In the draft report, the Task Force outlined key areas to improve the administration of health services to Gulf War Veterans. These areas include improving open communications with Gulf War Veterans, improving point of care services for chronic multi-symptom illness and delivering veteran benefits.

Learning from the unique experiences of the Gulf War Veterans and their subsequent health challenges is also a significant mission of the Task Force. Ultimately, the VA will learn from the Gulf War to be better prepared for how environmental toxins and its physical affects factor into future wars.

The draft report is available for viewing at the Federal Register and will be made available for comments for thirty days.