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Mysteries of Gulf War Illness

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It's a long way from the desert sands of Iraq, to a basement in the VA Medical Center in San Francisco.

It's a journey that Michael Bauer has taken, trying to find some answers to what happened to him in the Gulf war.

Bauer served as a tank commander. As his unit moved through Kuwait, and into Iraq, he saw much of the devastation left by the retreating Iraqi army.

Michael Bauer, Gulf War Vet: "Oh definitely.. exposed to the burning oil wells constantly, especially when we moved into Iraq."

Once the war ended, Bauer left the army, and almost immediately began experiencing health problems.

Michael Bauer: "Headaches, muscle and joint pain, fatigue, sleeplessness, memory and concentration problems, those are some of the key ones."

Bauer is one of an estimated 100,000 veterans who came home from the Gulf war plagued by a bewildering array of problems. Thos include pain, chronic fatigue, migraines, dizziness, memory problems, and loss of muscle control.

The problem is, no one knows what caused it.

Dr. Michael Weiner, UCSF/VA Medical Center: "There's no lab test, no blood test or scan that will allow a physician to say whether or not someone has it."

Dr. Michael Weiner is a researcher at the UC San Francisco and the VA Medical Center. He's doing a study of the brains of Gulf was vets, trying to see if there's a link between different symptoms.

Dr. Michael Weiner, UCSF/Va Medical Center: "If it really is true that there is a change in the brain in Gulf War illness, that indicates a true biological cause for the disease, it would allow investigators to work out appropriate treatments."

While no one knows the cause, there are lots of suspects. Depleted uranium, used in armor piercing ammunition, turns into fine dust after hitting a target. Studies have linked that dust to cancer. Other studies have pointed to environmental toxins from burning oil wells in Kuwait, or destroyed Iraqi chemical weapons.

And, a government study found a combination of pesticides used on uniforms to protect against insects and anti-nerve gas pills given to soldiers, were highly toxic in lab experiments on cockroaches.

Dan Fahey is a veteran and an expert on Gulf War illness. He says for years the pentagon denied there was even a problem.

Dan Fahey, GWI expert: "The Pentagon's very good if you 're wounded, if it's a clear injury, you lose a limb, you suffer a wound, they know how to treat that. But if you're exposed to a chemical agent or a radioactive toxin and you develop cancer over time, they are not as ready or prepared to admit there's a link."

But while researchers look for causes and hopefully treatments, Michael Bauer says the years of pain he has endured has not made him regret serving his country.

Michael Bauer: "Not at all. I raised my right hand, I made the commitment, you know, and that's just the way it is. I'm still a patriotic person, I guess."

We'll have more on Gulf war illness this Friday on Eyewitness News.

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