Congressional Medal of Honor winners pay tribute to Haley

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society presented UT Southwestern's chief of epidemiology, Dr. Robert Haley, with its prestigious Patriot Award at an August award ceremony in Dallas.

Robert Haley, MD

There have only been three such awards given to recipients in the state of Texas. It's the highest honor bestowed by the society to people whose life work is dedicated to courage, sacrifice and patriotism. Dr. Haley, a professor of internal medicine and holder of the U.S. Armed Forces Veterans Distinguished Chair for Medical Research, Honoring America's Gulf War Veterans, received the award for his research into Gulf War syndrome in veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Dr. Haley's initial research in 1994 involved a Naval Reserve construction battalion, also known as Seabees, who were afflicted with a number of unexplained diseases and ailments. Dr. Haley soon discovered their symptoms were not stress-related as some critics theorized. Dr. Haley's initial breakthrough findings resulted in The Journal of the American Medical Association publishing three of his research papers in a single issue.

"It was such an honor to receive this award," Dr. Haley said. "It's a rare experience to meet even one winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, but to see 18 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients attend the award ceremony was a very moving experience."

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society was chartered in 1958 and is composed exclusively of Medal of Honor recipients, currently numbering 120.

Texas businessman and major UT Southwestern supporter Ross Perot, who provided the initial backing for Dr. Haley's research and is a former recipient of the award, also attended the ceremony, as did Dr. Haley's wife and parents.

"My father served in the Pacific Theater in World War II, so it was very special to have him there with me," Dr. Haley said.

Mike Thornton, a member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the youngest recipient of the medal, nominated Dr. Haley for the Patriot Award.

"I'd heard about Dr. Haley and all of the great work he's done for veterans," Mr. Thornton said. "Everybody on the nominating board really thought he deserved the award at every level."

Mr. Thornton added that Dr. Haley lived up to the requirements of the Patriot Award because of his continued work with Gulf War veterans and his persistence in finding the causes of the disease and in working toward treatments.

"Dr. Haley would never give up when he found out what needed to be done," Mr. Thornton said.

Ten years after he began his initial study of Gulf War syndrome, a federal panel of medical experts studying the illness concluded in 2004 that Dr. Haley's research suggests a "probable link" to exposure to neurotoxins.

Dr. Haley attributed the research successes of Gulf War illnesses to early funding by Mr. Perot and to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for ongoing federal funding for further research into the disease.

"If Mr. Perot hadn't stepped forward in the early 1990s with funding to begin the research, Gulf War illness would've been written off as a psychological reaction to stress," Dr. Haley said. "We've worked hard, and we've been very fortunate to have the help we've had."

Other recipients of the award include Sen. John McCain, Bob Hope, Lee Iacocca and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.