Gulf War Illness - A Veteran's Journey
Mr. Brent Casey is the Executive Director of the Hershel "Woody" Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, a non-profit whose goal is to build at least one Gold Star Families Memorial Monument in every state in the Union to recognize, honor, and pay respect to Gold Star Families, members of the immediate family of service members who died serving in the armed forces. In addition, he is currently a doctoral candidate, expecting to graduate from Sullivan University in 2015 with a Ph.D. in Strategic Management. His dissertation will focus on student veterans and student veteran services in higher education.
During Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, Mr. Casey served as a Sergeant with the 82nd Airborne as a combat medic supporting an armored tank company in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He had enlisted 3 years earlier and was deployed to Operation Desert Shield with thousands of other young men and women. He describes himself at that time as "perfectly healthy, perfectly fit, and sound-minded," but within a couple of years of returning home, that had changed forever. He has since suffered from the symptoms of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and sleep apnea and has been receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs since 2005.
In the course of his illness and treatment, Mr. Casey had to "learn the system" to obtain diagnoses and treatments. He became involved in advocacy when he saw that many other veterans had similar problems and needed advice on things as basic as where they should to go and who they should talk to when they got there. Having already been down the path, he felt compelled to help other veterans navigate their way and worked very hard to educate himself about Gulf War Illness and the difficulties encountered by of those that suffer from it. In 2009 Mr. Casey joined the Board of Directors for the National Gulf War Resource Center and has served as an advisor to the Center since 2011. According to Mr. Casey, the Center has had a tremendous impact helping Gulf War veterans for many years, helping approximately 3,000 veterans a year and helping researchers around the country by providing information to veterans and encouraging participation in Gulf War Illness research studies.
Mr. Casey first learned about the Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) through a fellow Gulf War veteran and dear friend, Capt (Ret) David Winnett, who also suffers from Gulf War Illness. Mr. Casey served his fellow Gulf War veterans as a Consumer Reviewer for the GWIRP in 2012 and 2013, a task he describes as "an incredible privilege and pleasure."
He characterizes his experience in the scientific review panels as "eye-opening" and he has been amazed to find so many people, not necessarily military or even related to the military, that have deep concern and care about his health and that of his fellow veterans. As a researcher and a learner, Mr. Casey took these opportunities to interact with the panel scientists to learn from some of the very best researchers in the world and has found the researchers very willing to interact and share their work with and provide encouragement for his own research. Mr. Casey says he was surprised by the extensive amount of research, research capabilities, and manpower that have been put into trying to discover treatments and coping methods for Gulf War Illness, and he thinks that those outside the research community would be surprised as well. He expects that most Gulf War veterans would be flabbergasted to learn that researchers are using models involving stress, heat, sarin gas, and pesticides to mimic exposure of Gulf War veterans in an effort to try to diagnose, treat, and cure Gulf War Illness.
On behalf of all veterans, and especially Gulf War veterans, Mr. Casey expresses the most sincere gratitude to all of those involved in trying to solve the mystery of Gulf War Illness through continuing research, effective treatments, and healthy coping mechanisms to treat Gulf War veterans. He quotes J. Michael Bishop who said, "The modern research laboratory can be a large and complicated social organism," but through the collaboration of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, the veterans, and the researchers, much can and will be accomplished.