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I served in the Air Force and Air Force Reserves from 1977-1992 and was an activated reservist during Desert Storm with the 1st Aeromedical Staging Facility (Provisional) at King Khalid Military City, Saudi Arabia where I was stationed as a mental health technician. For my service, I was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal, Air Force Good Conduct Medal, Air Force Reserves Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, National Defense Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, Kuwait Liberation Medal-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait Liberation Medal-Government of Kuwait. I first began seeking treatment for mysterious symptoms while still at King Khalid in February of 1991. At that time there was no conclusive diagnosis but similar stories from other Guard and Reserve members began appearing across the nation. The day I was discharged from active duty I was handed a copy of my medical record and instructed to go directly to the VA. It took 10 years to complete the disability application and upgrade process. I am now rated 100% service connected for a variety of medical diagnosis. The presumptive classification of "Gulf War Illness" came about after I received my awards.
Gulf War Illness has been both devastating and a blessing. Devastating in that I am not able to do many of the most basic or routine activities most people do. Thankfully my background in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, where I helped patients adjust to life with a disability, prepared me well for my own adjustment to having a long term disability. I still do everything I want to do, just slower and less conventionally. I am differently-abled. The blessing is that I have clarity of what in life is important to me. I have the ability to pick and choose where to put my energies. I choose the veteran community as my primary activity, volunteering on many levels to improve the lives of my fellow veterans.
My involvement in advocacy efforts began by being one of the first 200 veterans to sign up for the Gulf War Registry. When the Persian Gulf Research Center opened up at the Houston VA, I was selected to participate in the new investigative protocol. It was there that I first met other Gulf War Veterans that had this still mysterious illness. One veteran who was very active in a newly formed organization in his home state outlined his work in getting Gulf War Illness recognized at the federal level. He introduced me to the network of advocacy organizations popping up nationwide. When I returned to Wisconsin, I began meeting Gulf War Veterans in my home state. Currently, I serve as a member of many Veterans Service Organizations as well as serving on advisory boards and committees, reporting back on the latest research findings and legislative actions. I also bring a face to Gulf War Illness.
I became involved with the Gulf War Illness Research Program after a fellow Gulf War Veteran from my home state encouraged me to participate as a Consumer Reviewer and I began following more closely the research that was being published in professional journals on Gulf War Illness. I recognized that I had some unique skills and experiences that could impact my fellow veterans. My background in mental health, neurospychology, and the peer review process, in both academic and clinical settings, as well as my depth and breadth of knowledge in administrative and battle field procedures, prepared me well for a role as a Consumer Reviewer. I have a deep respect for the entire CDMRP team and the fact that Consumer Reviewers are treated as equal partners. My experience has given me a renewed respect for the scientific process.
With the understanding that quality research and development is a slow painstaking process; and that 25 years is a long time for veterans to wait for answers, I am excited that Gulf War Illness research is moving towards more human subjects studies with practical applications. I am less concerned with the cause of Gulf War Illness and more concerned with practical applications of how we can make life more functional for veterans with Gulf War Illness and their families.
Last updated Tuesday, September 8, 2020