Aug. 2, 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait.

Thousands of Americans ship out to war, including Army squad leader Marc Bourgeois and Army medic Angie Menard.

“We got put on alert,” Bourgeois said. “We gathered up our equipment and headed out into the desert.”

They served in different units, but both knew a devastating weapon, nerve gas, might be used by the Iraqis.

“We thought it was likely that we’d be exposed to chemical weapons,” Menard said.

Because of that threat, some combat troops were given packs of pills. Pyridostigmine bromide, PB for short, was meant to protect them from the devastating effects of nerve gas.

“We didn’t know much about them, they didn’t say much about them other than, ‘You need these,'” Bourgeois said.

PB pills were FDA-approved to treat patients who have a breakdown in communication between muscles and nerves. But they had never been given to US troops to protect them from nerve gas, and only limited research had been done on possible long-term side effects.

The soldiers we talked to say they weren’t told that.

“Who am I to question? I barely graduated high school,” Bourgeois said.

“I took them because I was told to take them,” Menard said.

They did not encounter nerve gas — but Menard said she began to feel side effects of the pills immediately.

“I had stomach cramps, twitching of my muscles, all over my body,” Menard said.

Now, both Menard and Bourgeois fear those pills they took back then could be causing debilitating symptoms they’re feeling now.

“I’ve had muscle and joint pain ever since,” Menard said. “And this unexplained muscle twitching for 33 years.”

“My joints kill,” Bourgeois said. “I have degenerative disc disease that’s accelerated beyond what my age should be.”

Though the pills were given years ago, 7 Investigates has learned that scientists at Boston University’s School of Public Health are currently researching PB, and they think service members like Menard and Bourgeois are correct.

BU researchers found Gulf War veterans who took PB are experiencing heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, arthritis, and other chronic conditions, a decade earlier than most people.

“You feel older than your numbers are,” Bourgeois said.

“I had to medically retire from practice,” Menard said.

How many military members took PB? The Department of Defense estimates as many as 250,000. But scientists say it’s difficult to know how many veterans might be suffering as a direct result of the pills.

“We don’t even know how many PB pills each person got. It’s not in their records,” said Dr. Roberta White of Boston University.

Menard and Bourgeois are getting full disabilities benefits, but they say they feel betrayed and want the government to acknowledge the harm it may have done.

“I feel used. I feel violated. I feel angry,” Bourgeois said.

“We joked around a little bit about feeling like we were guinea pigs. It doesn’t feel like much of a joke now,” Menard said.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs denies that the pills are causing any lingering illnesses.

A spokesperson told 7 Investigates “VA and other agencies have researched causes of Gulf War illness for more than 30 years, to include the effects of PB, and no single factor has been identified.”

But they add, “The VA continues to evaluate developments.”

“We feel pretty forgotten, I think. A lot of us do,” Menard said.

“But how many people have to get sick, how many people have to die before they admit to something,” Bourgeois said.

The VA insists there’s no proof the PB pills made veterans sick. In fact, after the Iraq war in 2003, the FDA actually approved them for use against nerve gas. When 7 Investigates asked the Department of Defense if the pills are given to troops now, we were told it’s still an option.

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