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If national statistics hold up locally, as many as 50 Utah veterans may be suffering from the Persian Gulf Syndrome, according to the spokesman for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"Our medical center has provided 510 Persian Gulf physical exams since August of '92, when this program started," said spokesman G. Ted Baxter. He was referring to a program in which the VA will give free, complete physicals to any veteran of the 1991 conflict, whether they have any symptoms. The same offer is made to spouses and children of veterans.VA physicians estimate that 10 percent or more of veterans taking advantage of the offer nationally have Persian Gulf Syndrome, "a collection of symptoms like chronic diarrhea, headaches, skin rashes" that might result from service in the region. Local VA doctors say the same ratio may hold up here.

"We don't have a clear medical diagnosis" or a clear idea why the syndrome exists, he said.

Also, the actual number of veterans who may have the syndrome in Utah is unknown. "Because of the way we keep records here, we do not have a way of readily extracting a specific number," Baxter said.

Besides veterans' exams, since April 1 the VA has conducted physicals for 59 spouses and children, representing 28 households. That program was to expire on Sept. 30, but this week Congress extended it through 1997.

The Pentagon released information this week that indicates far more veterans may have been exposed to nerve gas when the Army blew up an Iraqi storage bunker in 1991, he said. The latest figure is that as many as 15,000 Americans may have been exposed.

"We attempted to estimate how many veterans in Utah" may have been exposed, he said. "We really have no way of knowing."