"It's a very important paper," says Robert Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, not least because it helps establish GWS as a treatable, physiological problem. But he says the team will have to examine dissected brain tissue from deceased veterans to better understand what the scans show.
The findings still do not pinpoint a specific cause or mechanism for the disorder. However, this type of scan might help physicians distinguish people with the syndrome from others with similar symptoms. This could ensure that they receive long-term pain management rather than psychotherapy.
That's good news for such people as Denise Nichols, who believes that the VA has avoided addressing the problems people like her have experienced.
"We need help. Our bright hope is these researchers," she said.
"We will continue to learn and examine ways to improve treatment, process claims and better care for these Veterans," the VA said in a statement.
This story was produced by New Scientist magazine.