LONDON (AP) _ A British scientist has reported discovering evidence of neurological abnormalities in veterans of the Persian Gulf War who claim to be suffering from ``Gulf War Syndrome.''

Veterans' associations in the United States and Britain called the study, published Wednesday in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, a ground-breaking step toward official recognition of the illness.

``For the first time, the veterans have scientific proof to say, `We are not the same as we were,' '' said Jim Tuite, head of the Gulf War Research Foundation, in a telephone interview from Washington.

Since 1991, veterans of the war have complained of symptoms including lethargy, diarrhea, numbness, memory loss and sleep disturbances. Veterans' associations have also reported that a high number of children born to Gulf War veterans suffer disabilities and physical abnormalities.

Nevertheless, the British and U.S. governments have said there is no evidence Gulf War Syndrome exists.

In the study by neurologist Dr. Goran Jamal, 14 British Gulf War veterans suffering from a variety of unexplained illnesses were examined and neurological abnormalities were found in all of them.

Jamal, of the Institute of Neurological Sciences at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland, said he passed electrical impulses through the arms and legs of the 12 men and two women to check their nervous systems. He did the same for 13 randomly chosen civilians.

While all the civilians tested normal, the veterans' results showed damage in their nervous systems.

This, he said, ``raises the question of possible organic elements underlying some of the complaints in the patient group.''

Allied soldiers in the Gulf War were given a powerful mixture of vaccines against polio, hepatitis B, anthrax, yellow fever and cholera. They were also given tablets to counteract the effects of chemical and biological warfare.

Jamal said the combination of the vaccines and tablets might have contributed to the veterans' illnesses.

``Although the toxic and biological effects of each substance are well identified, their combined effects are not,'' he wrote.

Nevertheless, ``the exact clinical relevance of these findings is unknown and further studies of larger groups are required for verification and to characterize the nature and cause of any dysfunction,'' Jamal wrote.

Almost 700,000 U.S. servicemen and civilians served in the Persian Gulf, as well as 45,000 Britons.

The U.S. Defense Department said it had not yet reviewed the report and could not comment on its conclusions. But Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner said the department had its own comprehensive program for Gulf War veterans who believe they have health conditions related to their service in the Gulf, including an ``intensive, systematic clinical evaluation.''

The Defense Department will release its findings from 18,598 participants ``very shortly,'' he said.

Some scientists and researchers have speculated that Gulf War Syndrome was a by-product of allied bombing of Iraq's chemical stockpiles.

Microbiologist Dr. Howard Urnovitz said Jamal's study ``finally establishes neurological damage.''

``We now have definite clinical markers,'' said Urnovitz, an independent research microbiologist from Berkeley, Calif. He said science has yet to answer why the veterans' nervous systems have not begun to heal since the end of the war.

A spokesman for Britain's Defense Ministry said Jamal's study had been submitted to a government committee of health experts investigating Gulf War Syndrome.