Shaun served in the Gulf – 25 years later, he's in constant pain

Once he was fit and healthy, but Shaun Cole’s life fell apart after he began to experience a Gulf War illness. Find out how art has helped him, and why The Royal British Legion is campaigning on his behalf.

When Shaun left the Army after nine years' Service in the Grenadier Guards to start up as a self-employed builder, he decided he wanted to keep fit. He used to be a keen runner, running the London marathon several times to fundraise for the Legion. But this all changed twelve years later when he was inexplicably bedridden.

“I went from being an active, proud, family man to someone who couldn’t move without feeling pain – and couldn’t work.”

This was Shaun's first warning that he was contracting a Gulf War illness but, because he had no previous medical history, doctors struggled to diagnose him. The first doctor he saw told him he had chicken pox. When the symptoms became worse, he sought a second diagnosis and was told it was shingles.

After managing to make it through his children’s christening ceremony (having been bed-ridden the day before) he passed out and was rushed to hospital and placed in an isolation unit.

"I had to stop working, but my symptoms didn’t stop getting worse."

Shaun was in excruciating pain and could barely move. He was examined over several days by doctors as they tried to determine the cause of his sudden decline in health. However, none of the tests could find the cause of his problems. He was discharged without any answers  despite being unable to move his body fully and still being in constant pain.

After this, Shaun had to take three months off from running his business. When he eventually went back to work, he was still fighting the pain in his body every day. As his movement became increasingly limited he had to stop working, but his symptoms didn’t stop getting worse.

He visited various medical professionals who were unable to offer any explanation. One even told him that his condition was psychosomatic.

Shaun COle on duty as a soldier in the First Gulf War

“I went from being an active, proud, family man to someone who couldn’t move without feeling pain – and couldn’t work. It was a rapid decline once the symptoms began and no one could explain how as a fit and healthy person I had succumbed to an illness no one could explain. I felt lost and forgotten, I didn’t want to sign on or ask for help. I’m not one to be defeated but the more ill I became the less help I received.”

Shaun felt like he was going round in circles with doctors and medical professionals unable to explain his symptoms and declining health. As a result, his marriage broke down; and he began to remove himself from everyday life, unable to face his friends and those he had served with. This led to Shaun experiencing a mental breakdown and being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After receiving help from the Legion, Combat Stress and the National Gulf Veterans & Families Association, he moved from Essex to Stowmarket in Suffolk and was able to live in an adapted bungalow.

“My whole life has fallen apart and I am not the same man I was when I left the Army. I am frustrated with the lack of acknowledgment of Gulf veterans, the lack of understanding and support. Most importantly, I want answers.”

Shaun has found that engaging in art has helped him cope with his illness. He is currently completing a fine art degree at the University of Suffolk.

“This illness I have, and the symptoms I continue to experience, has left a big hole in my life. I have lost my family, my home and my business. All I want is for someone to listen, be accountable and provide answers or a solution."

Our Gulf War illnesses campaign

Shortly after the First Gulf War ended, reports started to emerge of clusters of unusual illnesses occurring among Gulf War veterans. In all these cases, previously fit veterans had developed unusual diseases, illnesses and symptoms. While all of these symptoms (such as headaches and nausea) are experienced by members of the Armed Forces and the wider population, what is unusual about ill Gulf War veterans is that they report more of these symptoms than expected at a greater intensity. Gulf War veterans are also more likely to experience chronic fatigue, hypertension, skin conditions and PTSD.

We believe it is important that Gulf War veterans who have developed illnesses as a result of their Service should be properly supported, and that awareness of their specific health needs should be increased.

So we are calling on the Government to:

  • invest in research that will improve recovery outcomes for Gulf War veterans, and
  • set up formal communication channels to convey the results of US research into these illnesses to Gulf War veterans living in the UK.

Find out more about our Gulf War illnesses campaign.

“This campaign provides hope to thousands of veterans in similar circumstances to me. I hope the Government will listen to those of us still suffering from the Gulf War 25 years later.” Shaun

Help the campaign

Have you been diagnosed with a Gulf War illness or are you a family member or friend of someone who has? Help us learn more about the illnesses of the Gulf War veterans community by completing our short survey.

Your feedback will directly inform our campaign and will help us demonstrate to the Government why it is so important to properly support veterans with Gulf War illnesses.

support for veterans

If you served in the First Gulf War and are concerned that your health has been affected as a direct result, the following options are available to you:

Veterans & Reserves Mental Health Programme

Get in touch with the Veterans & Reserves Mental Health Programme on 0800 032 6258 or email

War Disablement Pension

If you think you have suffered ill health as a result of your service in the Gulf with the UK Armed Forces, you may be able to claim a War Disablement Pension. The Legion can help veterans claim compensation for injuries and illnesses sustained during Service. We offer independent advice and information and can represent veterans at a tribunal for free if they want to take further action.

For more information or to get help with a claim or Appeals Tribunal, contact freephone: 0808 802 8080 or email

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