Page last updated at 16:50 GMT, Wednesday, 1 April 2009 17:50 UK

Gulf war death rate 'not unusual'

Soldiers in Saudi desert
The government insists veterans' death rates are proportionate

New statistics show the mortality rate of veterans who fought in the 1991 Gulf War are no worse than for other service personnel, the government says.

Defence Minister Kevan Jones said 997 Gulf war veterans died between April 1991 and the end of December 2008.

This compared with just over a thousand deaths in a group of soldiers not deployed to the Gulf.

But the president of a group representing sick veterans questioned the significance of the findings.

Kevan Jones highlighted the statistics in a Commons written ministerial statement.

"The 997 deaths among Gulf veterans compare with approximately 1,609 deaths which would have been expected in a similar-sized cohort taken from the general population of the UK with the same age and gender profile.

"These statistics continue to confirm that UK veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict do not suffer an excess of overall mortality compared with service personnel that did not deploy," he wrote.

Chronic illness

But Professor Malcolm Hooper, president and scientific adviser of the National Gulf War Veterans and Families Association, told the BBC that the government was avoiding the point.

He said: "The real issue here is not mortality, it's morbitity - the chronic illness arising from the exposures suffered in the first Gulf War - particularly to organo-phosphate pesticides and the NAPS tablets - taken to protect against nerve agents."

He added that research carried out in the United States backed up his claims.

"Very healthy young men and women have become sick with a chronic, complex, multi-system illness, in particular with damage to the various areas of the brain.

"This has been shown to very significantly reduce their quality of life and that of their families."

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