Gulf War Illness

Lea Steele, Ph.D.

Lea Steele, Ph.D., research professor in the Baylor University Institute of Biomedical Studies, has conducted research on the health of Gulf War veterans since 1998.

Before joining the Baylor Institute of Biomedical Studies in 2010, she served as scientific director for the federal Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' illnesses. The committee was mandated by Congress to conduct an independent review of federal research addressing health issues facing Gulf War veterans.

As director of the Baylor Veterans' Health Research Program, Steele testified (March 12, 2013) before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on the care provided to veterans of the Gulf War.

Steele focused on Gulf War illness and said the VA has been slow to clearly and accurately acknowledge the problem and has failed to establish an effective and strategic scientific research program to address Gulf War illness research questions.

She testified that within the Department of Veterans Affairs, there appears to have been backward movement, with actions that seem intended to ignore the science and minimize the fact that there is a serious medical condition resulting from military service in the 1991 Gulf War.

Follow this link to watch a video of Steele's testimony. Because of a delay in the start of the hearing, her testimony begins at 1:35:38.

She is also the recipient of federal grants to support research projects on Gulf War illness. In one study, she is partnering with Scott & White Healthcare to provide clinical assessments, including an in-depth look at the brain, the immune system, and diverse other measures in Gulf War veterans.

"This project should give us a clearer picture of the complex biological processes that drive veterans' symptoms," Steele said. "This is an essential step for improving the care provided for ill veterans."

Another project will focus on developing a blood test to improve the diagnosis of Gulf War illness. According to Steele, "Gulf War illness is currently defined only on the basis of veterans' symptoms. An objective test to assist in diagnosing this condition would be immensely beneficial to veterans and their healthcare providers, and can also provide an important tool to better understand and treat this condition."

A third project includes a national study to determine the current health status of veterans across the U.S. who served in the 1991 Gulf War. It will also establish an information and research network for veterans to receive periodic updates on health issues and connect veterans with scientists who are conducting health studies of Gulf War veterans.

Gulf War illness is the term commonly used for the symptomatic condition that affects military personnel who served in the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Symptoms typically include some combination of chronic headache, widespread pain, memory and concentration difficulties, and digestive and other abnormalities - problems that are not explained by medical or psychiatric diagnoses or by routine laboratory tests. Studies indicate at least one in four of the 700,000 military personnel who served in the 1990-1991 war are affected, and that few have recovered over time.

To interview Dr. Steele, contact Tonya B. Lewis, (254) 710-4656, or the Office of Media Communications at (254) 710-1961.

Media Coverage

USA Today, June 26, 2013
Witnesses tell Gulf War panel it needs more experts

NPR, Science Friday, March 22, 2013
Scientists Search for Gulf War Illness Answers

USA Today, March 13, 2013
Researcher says officials covered up vets' health data

The Washington Post, March 13, 2013
Researcher alleges VA covered up adverse consequences to toxic exposures

Marine Corp Times, March 20, 2013
Study: MRI could diagnose Gulf War Illness

News Releases

Causes Of Gulf War Illness Are Complex And Vary By Deployment Area, According To Baylor University Study, Sept. 19, 2011

Baylor University Scientist Receives Major Grants for Health Research on 1991 Gulf War Veterans, Nov. 1, 2012

Baylor Epidemiologist Testifies Before Congressional Subcommittee on Gulf War Illness, March 15, 2013