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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 07:12 GMT 08:12 UK
Gulf veterans to tell of suffering
British soldiers in the Gulf war
Soldiers were given many anti-chemical attack drugs
UK war veterans are giving evidence in Parliament to a committee of senior US congressmen about Gulf War syndrome.

It is the first time a US congressional committee has held a meeting at Westminster.

The congressmen and former presidential candidate Ross Perot are listening to evidence from experts and victims of the debilitating syndrome, said to affect 5,000 Gulf War veterans in the UK alone.

The hearing is part of a US congressional sub-committee investigation into Gulf war-related illnesses among US and coalition forces.


This is a tragedy and we must honour the men who were wounded in combat

Ross Perot

Many servicemen and women have become ill - some have died - since returning from the Gulf following the war to liberate Kuwait in 1990.

But campaigners say there has been no satisfactory explanation as to why they are sick.

The Royal British Legion hopes Tuesday's meeting will increase pressure on the British Government for a full-scale public inquiry.

Motor neurone disease

BBC Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the US Government has awarded disability pensions to 16% of the 700,000 US troops who saw active duty in the Gulf during Operation Desert Storm.

Some ex-servicemen have died from motor neurone disease - and Gulf War veterans are more than twice as likely to suffer from this condition compared with people of their age-group who did not go to the Gulf.

Leading members of the Congressional panel believe much more should have been done to keep proper medical records during the conflict.

'Cover-up'

They argue that the cocktail of injections, anti-nerve gas tablets and organo-phosphate chemicals could well have damaged the servicemen's immune systems.

In May a former territorial army soldier won a nine-year battle to have his illness recognised as Gulf War syndrome.

He claimed 50 similar cases were "covered up".

Ross Perot
Ross Perot: UK under "enormous obligation" to investigate

Shaun Rusling's suggestions came after he won a victory at a pensions appeals tribunal, which overruled the Ministry of Defence's denial of the syndrome.

Mr Perot, a Texan oil billionaire who has funded research into the illness, told BBC Breakfast a full-scale inquiry must be held.

"This is a tragedy and we must honour the men who were wounded in combat and provide them with treatment and take care of their families," he said.

He said the experience in the Gulf War provided the opportunity for research into the effects of chemical and biological warfare but this relied on the US and the British Governments being prepared to face the issue.

"This can affect literally thousands of millions of people very quickly if don't come in and develop ways to protect our population."

"These men are not people who are submitting to stress.

"They were wounded in action.

"Unfortunately it's not like a bullet wound where you can see the hole and the damage was in the brain."

'Embarrassing'

Evidence gathered by the sub-committee members, led by Christopher Shays, will be included in a report to Congress on their return to the States later this week.

The congressmen will hear statements from 14 witnesses including Samantha Thompson, widow of Gulf War veteran Nigel Thompson who died of motor neurone disease in January, and ex-RAF navigator John Nichol, who was shot down during the Gulf conflict.

Tony Flint, former chairman of the 4,000 strong National Gulf Veterans and Families Associations said: "It seems embarrassing that US representatives have come over here to explain to our own MPs and Lords what Gulf War syndrome is all about."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Shukman
"Gulf War veterans are demanding a full-blown inquiry"
Former US presidential candidate, Ross Perot
"We've been in denial for many years"
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