A report on Gulf War syndrome released Wednesday urges the British government to acknowledge the illness is real and calls for compensation for veterans who became sick following the 1991 conflict.
The inquiry, led by retired senior judge Lord Lloyd of Berwick, was not commissioned by the government. It was set up at the request of Lord Morris of Manchester, the parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion, after the Ministry of Defense refused an official inquiry.
The panel refused to disclose who funded the report, saying the money was given on condition the source be kept secret.
Thousands of Gulf War veterans have experienced undiagnosed illnesses with symptoms such as chronic fatigue, loss of muscle control, diarrhea, migraines, dizziness, memory problems and loss of balance.
Suspected causes include stress, bacterial infection, chemical or biological weapons, pollutants from burning oil fields, depleted-uranium munitions and vaccinations for anthrax and other potential biological weapons.
For years, the U.S. and British governments denied the mysterious illnesses were linked to the war. However, both governments now acknowledge that at least some, but not all, of the sicknesses were due to wartime service. They say, however, that there is not enough evidence of a unique "Gulf War syndrome" with specific characteristics.
A U.S. government panel concluded in 1996 that combat-related stress was the most likely source of the illnesses, although it recommended pursuing other possible reasons.
More studies suggest "probably link"
Last week, a follow-up investigation by another U.S. government panel concluded that more recent studies suggest the illnesses are not caused simply by stress. It said there was a "probable link" between illnesses suffered by American veterans and exposure to toxins, including nerve gases such as sarin.
Several studies have consistently found veterans of the Gulf War are twice as likely to suffer illness as soldiers who didn't fight though they did not prove cause and effect.
"Since the Gulf veterans were twice as likely to become ill as if they had stayed in the U.K., the government ought now, in fairness, and not before time, to accept that the illnesses of those who were deployed to the Gulf were caused by their deployment," the report said.
The report recommended the government set up a special fund to compensate veterans who had suffered from the illnesses.
The British Ministry of Defense refused to allow serving officials or military personnel to testify before the Lloyd inquiry, but it did submit written evidence.
Lloyd's inquiry did hear testimony from the commander of the British forces in the Gulf, Gen. Peter de la Billiere, scientists and 35 veterans.
The Ministry of Defense said it intends to review the report and respond.