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HEALTH STUDIES BACK UP TROOPS’ CLAIMS

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Two new government studies show for the first time that veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War are far more likely to suffer from a variety of serious health problems than troops who did not serve in the war, a finding that appears to vindicate ailing veterans who have said that their service in the gulf has cost them their health.

The studies - one conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the other by the Navy - do not resolve the mystery of what is making most of the veterans ill.But they clearly show that gulf war veterans are having health problems in unusual numbers and that their illnesses can be disabling, even though they do not necessarily result in hospital admissions or death. Government studies published earlier in November showed that gulf war veterans were not hospitalized or dying at unusual rates through the fall of 1993.

Preliminary results from a new study by the centers, which focused on the health of nearly 4,000 military personnel, many of them reservists from this area of Pennsylvania, found that troops deployed to the gulf were more than three times as likely as other troops to suffer from chronic diarrhea, joint pain, skin rashes, fatigue, depression and memory loss. They have also reported far higher rates of headaches, sinus problems and sleep disturbances.

The CDC study is expected to link some of the veterans' health problems to chronic fatigue syndrome and the physical aftereffects of battlefield stress. It is supposed to be published early next year.

Pentagon officials said that a Navy study of about 1,500 sailors, which is also expected to be published sometime next year, found a similar difference in the health complaints of those who had served in the gulf war compared with those who had not.

The officials said that the Navy study was undergoing expert review and that details of its findings could not be released until the study was published.

"We do have information that clearly suggests that the incidence of reported health symptoms is much greater among gulf war veterans than among those who didn't serve," said Bernard Rostker, an assistant secretary of the Navy who is overseeing the Pentagon's investigation of Persian Gulf War illnesses.

"There clearly were and are veterans who are hurting," Rostker said. "They are more sick. I don't know what happened to them."

He added, "That's why we've put more resources on this, and that's why we're committed to trying to understand what went on in the gulf."

Matt Puglisi, an official of the American Legion and a member of a Department of Veterans Affairs panel on the illnesses, said: "Until now, we were pretty convinced that gulf war vets were suffering from poor health at a greater rate, but we had no significant data to back up these opinions. We only had anecdotal reports."

"Now we have a clear answer," Puglisi said. "These studies confirm that gulf war veterans suffer from poor health at a higher rate than their peers."

The studies suggest that whatever the specific cause of the mysterious ailments reported by Persian Gulf war veterans, the soldiers' deployment to the gulf is somehow responsible for their health complaints.