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Gulf War Illnesses Research Program (GWIRP)

This Congressional Special Interest (CSI) Medical Research Program is currently not active and for information purposes only.

Soldiers in Iraq

The DoD Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) was developed through multiple Public Laws and congressional language in authorization and appropriations bills from 1994 to 1998 to study the health effects of warfighters deployed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. All projects were reviewed for military relevance and externally peer reviewed for scientific quality. The execution of these projects is conducted primarily in universities and within Army and Navy laboratories by military and civilian scientists who are world leaders in their respective areas of expertise. In 1999 to 2002, the DoD established additional funding for programmed research.

Please see the Long Description

Select Participating Laboratories in GWIRP

These military laboratories enable the transition of technological opportunities to military application made possible by additional investment in biomedical science by other federal agencies, Congressional Special Interest appropriations, private foundations, and industry.

DoD Lead Laboratories
• DoD Deployment Health Research Center (dedicated to GWI/FHP)

Specialized Laboratories and Expertise
• US Army Medical Research Unit – Heidelberg
• Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
• Naval Health Research Center
• US Army Center for Environmental Health Research
• US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine Specialized Capabilities
• US Army Institute for Chemical Defense (low level chemical threat agents) Extramural Research
• Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, University of Michigan
• Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University

Select Accomplishments
• Tested psychological screening tool in Soldiers deploying to Kosovo, demonstrating low misclassification for psychiatric intervention (depression, substance abuse, etc.)
• Discovered potential association between immunizations given under high stress conditions and increased self-reported symptoms
• Assessed health status of individuals exposed to chemical agents at Aberdeen in the 1970s and of Soldiers operating in the vicinity of Khamisiyah
• Established the Millennium Cohort Study (military “Framingham” study), with successful recruitment of 100,000 participants stratified by Service component
• Completed 4-year Leishmania diagnosis and treatment program; transitioned skin test to advanced development

Value Added
• Directly addresses Congressional concerns about post-deployment health and fulfills research needs to support new service regulations on occupational and environmental exposures and health risk monitoring as well as service members’ well-being; it also addresses fundamental biomedical research requirements of all services on individual health optimization (readiness)
• Led to establishment of cohort health baselining that will permit rapid assessment of a change in health status following any near-future deployments that will avoid the uncertainty and cost associated with the costly confusion about health consequences associated with the Gulf War deployment in 1991
• Used Total Army Injury and Health Occupational Database (TAIHOD) to identify and correct deficiencies in military health database coding and reporting methods, and provided substantial analyses of injuries and illness associations with military deployment and occupational exposures, including psychiatric conditions and Gulf War-associated illnesses, and increasing trends in disability discharges
• Developed new brain imaging test methodologies and capabilities in the newly established VA-DoD Neurosciences Research Center and, in a large and rigorous study, demonstrated absence of previously reported neuroanatomical and biochemical changes in association with reported symptoms in Gulf War veterans
• Progress is summarized annually in the report to Congress representing the federally funded portfolio on Gulf War Illness research

GWIRP Transitions to Force Health Protection

In 2002, the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) (ASD [HA]) directed the GWIRP to transition to a forward-looking effort on Force Health Protection (FHP). The primary emphasis of the program became prospective rather than retrospective, with a goal of protecting current and future service-members put into operational environments including those similar to those of the 1991 Persian Gulf deployment. The program’s scientific focus areas rely heavily on lessons learned from research in the GWIRP.

The FHP Research Program supports three pillars—Healthy and Fit Force, Casualty Care and Management, and Casualty Prevention—with research priorities endorsed by DDR&E and ASD[HA]. These research priorities include: post-deployment health monitoring, including the 22-year Millennium Cohort Study; health behavior interventions, including weight management strategies, and reduction of tobacco use, alcohol abuse, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and unintended pregnancy; neurobiology of stress and prevention of chronic multi-symptom illnesses; health risk assessment methods for environmental radio frequency radiation and toxicological exposures; and safety assessment methods for medical materiel and operational interactions.

The future FHP Research Program will continue to support the DoD FHP Program’s three pillars with research priorities that include: expansion of research on occupational and environmental health (OEH) risk assessments and methods, such as biomonitoring in future deployments; continuation of the Millennium Cohort Study to establish long-term health risks and benefits associated with military service with an initial focus on neurological and reproductive health; continuation of research on neurotoxicological assessment methods ranging from acute Soldier status to prediction of long-range health risks; continuation of research on medical materiel safety issues such as squalene antibodies, blood brain barrier integrity in operational environments, and timing of multiple immunizations; and expansion of research on health behavior interventions, such as biomedically-based programs to optimize health habits and enhance medical readiness, and risk communication.

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VA Gulf War Illnesses


Eisen, SA, Kang, H, Murphy, FM, Blanchard, M, Reda, DJ, Henderson, WG, Toomey, R, Jackson, LW, Alpern, R, Parks, BJ, Klimas, N, Hall, C, Pak, HS, Hunter, J, Karlinsky, J, Battistone, MJ, and Lyons, MJ. Gulf War veterans’ health: Medical evaluation of a U.S. cohort. Annals of Internal Medicine 2005 June 7; 142(11):881-890.

Couzin, J. Epidemiology: VA Advisers Link Gulf War Illnesses to Neurotoxins. Science 2004 October 1; 306:26-27.

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