Veterans Health

The Veterans Health Research Program is a multidisciplinary research initiative focused on complex health conditions affecting U.S. war veterans. Directed by Baylor epidemiologist Dr. Lea Steele, current research centers on the long-term health effects of military service in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, with an emphasis on advancements in understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of Gulf War illness.

Gulf War Illness
The 1990-1991 Gulf War was among the most impressive combat operations in modern history. It began with Operation Desert Shield, a massive buildup of U.S. and Coalition military forces assembled in the desert region surrounding the Persian Gulf in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990. The period of active hostilities, Operation Desert Storm, began in January 1991, with intensive air strikes that continued for six weeks and culminated with a four-day ground war that ended with the February 28, 1991, cease fire. Despite the brevity of the war and its successful outcome, many U.S. troops returned home reporting difficult, unexplained health symptoms. This complex of chronic symptoms, once labeled Gulf War Syndrome by the media, is now more commonly known as Gulf War illness. Studies indicate that Gulf War illness affects at least one in four of the nearly 700,000 troops who served, and that few veterans have recovered in the 22 years since the war. Scientific studies indicate that Gulf War illness is not a psychiatric condition and cannot be attributed to wartime stress, pointing instead to a number of deployment-related exposures as likely causes or contributors. Research studies have identified neurological, immune, and other biological alterations in veterans with Gulf War illness, but important work remains to better understand the physiological processes that drive veterans' symptoms and to identify effective treatments.

Current Studies
Baylor's Gulf War illness research program includes multiple studies conducted in conjunction with regional and national collaborators. Current projects include:

Diverse Biological Indicators in Gulf War Illness: Are They Replicable? Are They Related?
This project is assessing a broad range of previously reported and innovative biological measures, including brain imaging and tests of immune and adrenal function, to clarify the biological processes that underlie Gulf War illness.

91Vet Net: An Information and Research Resource for Veterans and Investigators
This project will survey a national sample of 1990-1991 Gulf War era veterans to provide current information on health symptoms and diagnosed medical conditions. It will also establish 91 Vet Net, a national resource for veterans interested in receiving current information relevant to military service in 1990-1991 and/or participating in health studies.

Development of a Gulf War Illness Diagnostic Panel
The objective of this project is to develop and validate a diagnostic tool for Gulf War illness, based on multiplex evaluation of blood analytes associated with immune, inflammatory, neurological, hormonal, and hematological processes potentially associated with this condition.

Multisite Consortia
Baylor investigators are currently collaborating with two multisite research consortia headquartered at Boston University and Nova Southeastern University on projects designed to improve understanding of the pathophysiology of Gulf War illness, with the goal of identifying processes that can be targeted for treatment.