News Release

Monday, April 17, 2023

VA, NIH launch study of Gulf War Illness

New research may help identify biomarkers and potential treatments.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and National Institutes of Health have launched a study to gain a better understanding of the chronic symptoms of Gulf War Illness. The disease affects multiple systems in the body and includes chronic symptoms such as fatigue, headache, memory and cognitive difficulties, joint and muscle pain, poor sleep, and problems with gastrointestinal and respiratory function. It affects about a third of the nearly 700,000 men and women who served in the Persian Gulf during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

“This is an important collaboration that we hope will lead to many answers to those suffering from Gulf War Illness,” said Walter Koroshetz, M.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of NIH. “Taking advantage of the resources available only at NIH, this comprehensive study will take a new look at this illness and uncover biological mechanisms that may pave the way to treatments.” 

“Effective treatments for Gulf War Illness have remained elusive, forcing healthcare providers to mostly focus on easing patient symptoms,” said Rachel Ramoni, D.M.D., Sc.D., VA’s chief research and development officer. “VA and NIH’s collaboration will bring together experts who will meticulously investigate the underlying causes of symptoms. With the help of the veterans who volunteer for the study, researchers will lay the groundwork for care that will meaningfully improve the lives of the hundreds of thousands of veterans living with Gulf War Illness.”

VA researchers will screen 1990-91 era Gulf War veterans through the Miami VA Medical Center and the California and Washington, D.C., sites of VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Center. Potential study participants will be referred to NIH to gain more insight into Gulf War Illness. Researchers from NIH will seek to identify how the illness presents itself – in ways that can be measured or observed – in each participant. The research will focus on the immune and autonomic nervous systems, as well as the body’s energy-production pathways.

Eligible veterans will be invited to the NIH Clinical Center for up to two weeks for comprehensive testing. Among other tests, the research protocol includes administering a peak exercise challenge to trigger symptom flares. The procedure has been used to explore the mechanisms of other chronic illnesses, such as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome.

VA researchers will also maintain a data repository of participants, oversee veterans’ overall experience in the study, and help to communicate individual participants’ study findings to their VA care providers as appropriate.

The study is expected to last five years. Initial enrollment began in July 2022 and focused on Gulf War veterans who were enrolled in other studies. Enrollment is now open to those from the larger Gulf War veteran community, with the first participant arriving to the NIH Clinical Center on April 16, 2023. Interested veterans can visit the study website to learn more at

The NINDS is the nation’s leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The mission of NINDS is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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