My week at the War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center

At the top of my mind today: our hearts have been heavy with the recent disappearance of a dear friend, one of Callaghan’s longest-standing, closest friends here in the States. Over the last 20+ years, they’ve been co-workers, roommates, and motorcycle road trip partners, continuing to take trips together once or twice a year. The last time Davey came through here was in March, and I just hate writing all of this in the past tense. The wide-spread search for Davey was called off yesterday. Davey G. Johnson, wherever you are in the universe, we love you. Just wanted to put that out there.

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As promised, I’m here to fill you in on the medical experience that took me out of state for six days.

It all started when I took the Gulf War Registry Health Exam for Veterans. My results led to my experience volunteering myself to research efforts at the War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) at the V.A. in Palo Alto, California. The Palo Alto V.A. has one of the three WRIISC programs in the country, the other two being in Washington D.C. and New Jersey.

I gladly accepted the WRIISC’s invitation to donate my time and DNA to this on-going research project. The study benefits combat veterans of Southwest Asia conflicts as the research is advanced through the center’s findings.

Let me just put in here that “Gulf War Illness” remains a controversial term. It broadly refers to a spectrum of symptoms that can also be described as “chronic multi-symptom illness” or “medically unexplained illnesses” related to combat service in the Gulf War, resultant of exposure to certain agents, fumes, and environmental hazards.

My experience at the WRIISC was fantastic. There were only two of us in this round of the study, and we received the best of care. He and I were flown out to Palo Alto and housed for the week at the Defenders Lodge.

 

Tired but grateful at the end of the last day of the study.

 

Those who take part in the WRIISC studies benefit personally, as well, as the other veteran and I learned. With our study results and notes documented in the system, specialists at our home V.A. hospitals will follow up on the WRIISC team’s recommendations with pinpointed exams and further testing that may lead to official diagnoses.

The other veteran and I both left with recommendations for further neuralpsychological evaluation… what I called “brain day” of the study mainly involved a mentally exhausting three-hour battery of tests. He and I struggle with similar cognitive difficulties, so we weren’t surprised that we tested out the same in that particular category.

In addition to a complete neuralpsychological work-up, it was also recommended that I undergo evaluation for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), an illness that is apparently not uncommon amongst Gulf War veterans. For me, this would actually explain a lot.

Incidentally, I always thought it was strange that I’m tired most of the time, but I still work out with an abundance of energy in my body. I’ll often yawn before class begins and even during class between tracks in both Body Combat and Body Pump, yet when the music starts up, I’m instantly “ON.”

One of the WRIISC team members commented that soldiers are trained to power through fatigue, and many veterans never unlearn that conditioning in their bodies. When our minds recognize that it’s Go Time, we just GO, no matter how tired we are. What you see is a person with a lot of energy, because we do have a lot of energy when we’re in training mode. We have so much energy, we have some to spare after the workout is over! You can have a lot of energy while your mind is screaming “fight or flight,” even if you’re fatigued.

This might be the reason why I get my best workouts with instructors who deliver that drill-sergeant vibe. The more forceful the instructor’s commands, the better I respond. (This is more true for Body Pump, though… in Body Combat, I’m there to fight to the death no matter the instructor’s vibe.)

The underlying take-away for veterans with Gulf War Illness – for everyone, in fact – is that the mind/body connection is real.

It was wonderful to be able to volunteer and contribute to research helping other veterans with war-related illness and injuries. I never thought I’d give away my DNA for research purposes (or for any reason, for that matter), but I was happy to do it at the WRIISC. I’m grateful for the excellent care that I received, and for the light shed and answers obtained regarding my own health picture.

If you’re a Gulf War veteran experiencing health issues, I strongly recommend that you consider taking the Gulf War Registry Health Exam for Veterans.

 

 

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