|Australian Vets Get Gulf War Syndrome Snub|
Veterans up in arms over Gulf War snub
BY MICHAEL INMAN
THE AUSTRALIAN Government has rejected the pleas of war veterans to recognise the existence of Gulf War Syndrome, thwarting the hopes of hundreds for extra medical aid and compensation.
Despite being recognised in both the United Kingdom and the United States, an investigation by the Repatriation Medical Authority, the results of which were announced in the authority's annual report, found the syndrome was not an injury or disease as defined by Veterans' Entitlements Act.
Veterans' groups said yesterday they were devastated by the ruling and felt abandoned by the country they had risked their lives to protect.
Former soldier Bruce Relph said, ''I'm disappointed that countries in the northern hemisphere have recognised GWS but our Government won't it's unfair and unjust.''
But the Department of Veterans' Affairs said Australians who served in the 1990-91 conflict already had access to compensation and medical care, despite being denied recognition for the syndrome.
More than 1800 Australians served in the 1990-91 conflict, with hundreds estimated to be afflicted with the syndrome.
Exposure to sarin nerve agent and organophosphate pesticides, and medications, such as pyridostigmine bromide pills, issued to personnel as protection against disease and nerve gas attacks, have been linked to the disease.
Symptoms include fatigue, loss of muscle control, headaches, dizziness, memory problems, muscle and joint pain, indigestion, skin problems, immune system problems, and birth defects.
The wide-ranging symptoms are problematic for veterans as they must prove their illness is related to operational service to access full veterans' entitlements, the Australian Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans' Association says.
Former Association president Paul Copeland described the decision as a ''slap in the face''.
''There should be no reason why Australia ... would not accept sound scientific-medical evidence that has been accepted by the USA and UK,'' Mr Copeland said.
''This is a decision that goes against international reasoning and does not protect, nor provide for Australian Defence Force personnel who were exposed to the environmental risks associated with their deployment to the Gulf conflict.''
Mr Relph was one of 75 Australians to serve in northern Iraq in 1991 defending and delivering aid to Kurds fleeing their homes in the aftermath of the war as part of Operation Provide Comfort.
Mr Relph has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, stomach problems, and other health conditions since the deployment.
While he is eligible for a full military pension, many of his mates are not.
''It's really hard to get any type of pension out of them these days and a lot of my contingent are having trouble,'' Mr Relph said.
''It's what the Government does, anything to save a buck, but then they start giving money away for the insulation scheme which they then stuff up.
''How have we missed this? It's a travesty.''
Despite the rejection, Veterans Affairs said compensation and health care does flow to veterans of the Gulf War for recognised conditions resulting from service in the Gulf.
''DVA has already accepted more than 800 claims relating to Gulf War service,'' it said.
''Even though the RMA has previously determined that Gulf War Syndrome is not a disease, claims have been accepted for a range of other conditions, such as contact dermatitis or a migraine condition linked to Gulf service.
''In addition, further research on Gulf War veterans is being undertaken by Monash University.''
It is expected to be completed by July 2013.
''The Government will consider what, if any, further support is required for Gulf War veterans based on the research findings.''