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Court makes landmark ruling on Gulf war syndrome
24 May 2002
Former service personnel who claim to be suffering a variety of medical problems as a direct result of their participation in the Gulf war conflict in 1991 have won a legal breakthrough with a court recognising Gulf war syndrome for the first time.
In the case of Shaun Rusling, who served as a sergeant in the conflict, the Pensions Appeal Tribunal has formally accepted that Gulf war syndrome was attributable to military service.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence said it was looking at the ruling and "considering its possible implications". Officials said they believed the MoD would be entitled to appeal against it.
But the National Gulf Veterans & Families Association, which has been campaigning for a public inquiry into the issue, claimed that the ruling marked growing acceptance that Gulf war syndrome did exist.
The decision, it said, should help hundreds of other veterans of the conflict, who have subsequently had medical problems, claim pensions.
Meanwhile, David Laws, a Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said the tribunal decision was "a landmark ruling which forces the government to recognise that Gulf war syndrome is a serious medical condition".
The NGVFA contends that there are various causes of the syndrome, but that these include vaccines that were given to protect against Iraqi biological weapons, depleted uranium used as an anti-tank weapon, and certain insecticides.
The MoD's long-held position, by contrast, is that it recognises some Gulf war veterans have been suffering from illnesses, but contends that these do not represent a "syndrome" in the sense of a defined set of symptoms.
It set up a medical assessment programme, under which 51,000 veterans deployed in the Gulf conflict could seek tests and diagnosis. But the MoD says there is no evidence to link illnesses to the conflict, although it maintains an open mind pending research.
Mr Rusling submitted a claim for post-traumatic stress disorder and Gulf syndrome to the authorities in 1993, but had these rejected. The War Pensions Agency told him that it would accept that "symptoms and signs of ill-defined conditions" had been caused by his service - but not that he was suffering from the syndrome.
Mr Rusling continued to pursue an appeal, and after a hearing in April the Pensions Appeal Tribunal concluded "that the secretary of state has failed to show beyond reasonable doubt that Gulf war syndrome is not attributable to Mr Rusling's service".
Nikki Tait and Alexander Nicoll Published by the Financial Times © 2002 Financial Times