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Soldiers Returning From Iraq Suffer From Impaired Cognition

That America-hating newspaper The New York Times says that duty in Iraq appears to have a significant impact on U.S. soldiers’ ability to think:

The research team led by Dr. Vasterling administered a battery of mental tests to 654 male and female soldiers who served in Iraq at various times from April 2003 to May 2005. The tests, more than 20 in all, were given before and after deployment, and included one in which participants had to pay close attention to a computer screen as letters flashed by, waiting to flag each F they saw. In another test, they were asked to memorize simple diagrams and try to recreate them 30 minutes later.

The soldiers did significantly worse in tasks that measured spatial memory, verbal memory and their ability to focus than did 307 soldiers who had not been deployed to Iraq.

Sound familiar? Veterans returning from the Persian Gulf War of 1991 reported similar congnitive problems. Some researchers have attributed this to exposure to nerve gases, the wearing of pesticide collars, and plain old post-traumatic stress syndrome. Could these two be related?

I am a Gulf War veteran myself, but one who has never seen combat, worn a pesticide collar, got gassed, been abducted by space aliens or experienced any of the other potential causes blamed for Gulf War Illness. In spite of this, I have occasional night sweats, chills, rashes, aching joints, low-grade fever. Even occasional dizziness and cognitive issues. Usually I’m just fine. Even great at times. But occasionally things get bad enough to miss work. On those days I’m actually afraid to drive.

I have tried to have an open mind about potential causes and not point the finger at my service in the Gulf but no one has been able to tell me otherwise. In fourteen years of various tests, doctors are clueless as to the cause. All they can do is rule things out. What’s even more frustrating was signing up for a Gulf War study at the local VA hospital a few years back. I had high hopes that by going to a group familiar with Gulf War Illness, I’d finally get a decent diagnosis. Instead, I was told that according to the survey I submitted I was “too healthy” to participate! Perhaps I’m better off, as the few interactions I’ve had with the VA have been less than inspiring, to say the least.

So veterans like me are left to fend for themselves, as the federal government is so eager to explain it away lest it has to actually do something. Meanwhile, the chickenhawks in Congress and the White House happily trade VA funding for large tax cuts, all the while whistling a patriotic tune. It’s so easy to “Support The Troops” when they’re marching off to war and so easy to neglect them when they return.

I say ‘welcome home’ to the soldiers and sailors leaving Iraq. Just don’t count on Iraq leaving you any time soon.