Studies link birth defects, Gulf War? Pentagon says there is no proven correlation

From: davey garland [mailto:xxx]
Sent: Wednesday, February 25, 2004 6:59 PM
Subject: [du-list] studies link birth defects to gulf war

09:22 AM CST on Tuesday, February 24, 2004

News 8 has been looking at questions about birth defects among the children of Gulf War veterans for eight years. Vets said their kids had more birth defects than non-Gulf War vets. WFAA producer P.J.
Ward has been gathering data from scientific journals, and News 8 is now able to report that data.


Cedric Miller of San Antonio is now twelve years old, conceived and born just after his father returned from the first war in the Persian Gulf.

Cedric suffers from Goldenhar Syndrome. He’s had sixteen surgeries to repair and construct his face and body since he was born.

“The face was underdeveloped,” said Cedric’s father Steve Miller. “There was no eye on the left, there was no ear, the thumbs didn’t work and there were some other things going on.”

Cedric is literally a poster child for a controversy between veterans, scientists and the government. Just after the first Gulf War, those returning from duty said that their children were being stricken with birth defects at an alarming rate.

Steven Miller, Cedric’s father, testified before Congress. Like tens of thousands of other fathers who served in the Gulf, he was exposed to a cocktail of chemicals.

Miller fathered a normal child before the war. After he returned, Cedric was born. Goldenhar cases like Cedric’s were a signal to vets that something was amiss. The Department of Defense said there was no evidence, but many scientists said there was.

“The Gulf War vets had a three time higher risk of having Goldenhar Syndrome,” said Maria Araneta, an epidemiologist at the University of California at San Diego.

Araneta knows Goldenhar normally happens to just one child in 26,000. But back in 1997, when she analyzed the birth records of 34,000 babies born to Gulf War vets, she found five cases of Goldenhar.

The number was unusual, but not big enough to be statistically significant, according to the Department of Defense. To this day, Pentagon officials maintain there’s no correlation between Gulf War service and higher birth defects.

“There hasn’t been any statistical difference in the deployed and non-deployed populations as far as birth defects in their children,” said Dr. Michael Kilpatrick of the Department of Defense.

Pentagon researchers continue to study the issue.

“They’ve funded a lot of studies,” said Betty Mekdici of the non-profit organization Birth Defect Research for Children. “I think they’ve funded some studies so that they could show us we were wrong and make us go away.”

Mekdici’s organization collects data from parents across the country. She’s now discovered 26 cases of Goldenhar among Gulf War veterans.

“Goldenhar is so rare that when we started to see that blip, we knew that something was going on,” Mekdici said.

Government officials said Mekdici’s numbers aren’t valid. But the more studies Araneta does, the more evidence she finds.

“The results have changed, because the methods in ascertaining birth defects have improved,” Araneta said.

News 8 found documentation from an internal Veterans Administration study, published within the last year,
that shows children of Gulf War vets have twice the normal rate of birth defects.

A Department of Defense-funded study showed children of male Gulf War vets have three times the average rate of heart defects.

And a study just released this month shows women who served in the first Gulf War suffered three times the normal rate of miscarriages in the period just after the conflict.

Back in San Antonio, Cedric Miller faces five more surgeries to lengthen his jaw and create a new left ear. His sister and father help him face the emotional minefield he navigates every day.

“He wants to look like everybody else, but no matter what happens, he’s still the same to me,” sister Larissa Miller said.

The military pays for none of his medical needs, because his father is no longer in the Army.

“If he needs me for any reason, no matter where I am, I’ll come,” said Larissa.

No one knows if the war exposures that may have harmed Cedric are still in Iraq. But 100,000 potential mothers and fathers are now returning from service in the Gulf. This time, more women than ever were close to the chemicals and toxins of the front lines.

So, is this new crop of veterans potentially in danger?

“There are a lot of exposures in any warfare environment that are reproductive toxins, so I think that’s something we have to take into account with any returning army,” Mekdici said.

The Department of Defense is keeping better track of returning vets than it did after the first Gulf War, but the problem is complicated. More husbands and wives are in the war together than ever before, meaning that two parents, rather than one, may be carrying the toxins that produce birth defects.

More science needs to be done, and better statistics need to be kept of birth defects to further research into the issue.

It should also be noted that Texas is one of the largest states not to have a birth defect registry program.