Previous population-based studies have shown that Gulf veterans report medically unexplained symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and irritability more often than other veterans. They are also more likely to report symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Researchers at the Gulf War Illnesses Research Unit set out to investigate the possibility of a relationship between psychiatric disorders and unexplained physical disabilities. They sent health questionnaires to veterans of the 1990-1 Persian Gulf conflict, veterans of the 1992-7 Bosnia peace-keeping mission and military personnel who had not been deployed in the Gulf. Randomly selected subsamples of respondents who had been deployed in the Gulf, along with respondents from the other groups who reported physical disability, were invited for further medical assessment. The researchers analysed the association between each of the main psychiatric disorders and disability status, taking into account factors such as age, sex, and rank.
Only 24% of the Gulf Veterans who reported having a physical disability were found to have a formal psychiatric disorder (such as depression or anxiety). The figures were similar for members of the two other groups. All groups had rates for post-traumatic stress disorder of between 1% and 3%.
The research suggests that the mental health patterns of Gulf Veterans reporting physical disabilities differ little from those of other disabled veterans. Whatever the nature of Gulf veterans' symptoms, they cannot be explained by exposure to events conventionally understood to be psychologically traumatic, the authors conclude.