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Augusta Professor Receives Funding to Study Gulf War Illness in Female Veterans

About 7 percent of the nearly 700,000 military personnel who served in the 1991 Gulf War were women — representing the largest proportion of U.S. women serving in a war zone in U.S. military history at that time. Recently, Dr. Steven Coughlin, associate professor of public health at Augusta University, was awarded a $1.1 million grant from the Department of Defense to complete a four-year study of Gulf War illness in female veterans. Past research indicates that Gulf War Illness can lead to adverse health issues. Adverse reproductive outcomes may also occur.

Previous studies have looked at rates of Gulf War Illness in female and male Gulf War veterans. Results from some studies suggest that Gulf War Illness is more common in female Gulf War veterans than their male counterparts. In the 25 years since the war, few studies have evaluated Gulf War Illness and other medical conditions specifically as they affect women veterans of the 1991 Gulf War. Dr. Coughlin hopes to bring these concerns to the forefront of veteran’s issues and use his research to improve care in the future.

“With the increased emphasis on health care disparities, these types of projects should give us more precise and more actionable information to improve health outcomes. Professor Coughlin is uniquely and eminently qualified to conduct this challenging but also very important project” – commented Dr. Andrew Balas, dean of the College of Allied Health Sciences at Augusta University.

One major objective of the study is to establish the Gulf War Women’s Cohort (GWWC), a sample of women veterans who served in the first Gulf War and a comparison group of women who served in other locations during that time. The number of women who will be included in GWWC is anticipated to be 955 to 1,420 women Gulf War veterans and an additional 680 to 854 women veterans who were not deployed to the Persian Gulf.

A second objective of the study is to provide current and comprehensive data on the health status of women who served in the war and identify any conditions that affect Gulf War women veterans at increased rates. This includes assessment of current health status, changes in health symptoms and conditions over time, and possible differences in health outcomes associated with specific experiences and exposures during the war.

Dr. Coughlin stated, “The very talented research team contributing to this collaborative study look forward to filling in the evidence base about the health status of Gulf War women veterans.” The study will generate data that will improve our understanding of Gulf War illness in women veterans who served in the Gulf War, women veteran’s health, and adverse reproductive outcomes. The study will lay the groundwork for future research aimed at a short-term or longer-term improvement in clinical treatment of women veterans with Gulf War illness.