Factor analysis of Gulf War illness: what does it add to our understanding of possible health effects of deployment?
Shapiro SE., Lasarev MR., McCauley L.
The authors conducted factor analysis on survey data from 1,779 Persian Gulf War veterans. Their purposes were to: 1) determine whether factor analysis identified a unique "Gulf War syndrome" among veterans potentially exposed to chemical warfare agents; 2) compare the findings of factor analysis with those from an epidemiologic analysis of symptom prevalence; and 3) observe the behavior of factor analysis when performed on dichotomous data. The factor analysis identified three factors, but they were not unique to any particular deployment group. A unique pattern of illness was not found for the larger group of veterans potentially exposed to chemical warfare agents; however, veterans who had witnessed the demolition of chemical warfare agents at the Khamisiyah site in Iraq had a greater prevalence of dysesthesia. An analysis of the performance of dichotomous variables in factor analysis showed that the standard criteria used to determine the number of relevant factors and the dominant variables within them may be inappropriate. While Gulf War veterans appear to suffer an increased burden of illness, there is insufficient evidence to identify a unique syndrome in this population of deployed servicemen and women. Furthermore, the results provide evidence that factor analysis may make a limited contribution in this area of research.