DoD Expands Gulf War Veterans Outreach to 20,000
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 1996 The Pentagon is trying to contact more than 20,000 Gulf War veterans who may have been exposed to nerve gas when U.S. soldiers destroyed Iraqi ammunition in March 1991.
Deputy Secretary of Defense John P. White announced a new series of actions Oct. 22 to contact veterans who were within 31 miles of Kamisiyah, Iraq, when the weapons were detonated. U.S. troops destroyed large quantities of Iraqi ammunition at the sprawling ammunition storage site in southern Iraq shortly after the Gulf War ended.
Officials now think hundreds more nerve gas weapons may have been detonated. Previously, they were concerned about two explosions that took place March 4 and March 10. However, letters now going out to veterans expand the period of possible nerve gas exposure to March 415.
Thousands of veterans have reported health problems as a result of their service in the gulf. President Clinton and Secretary of Defense William Perry directed a full investigation of any information that could help determine the causes of illnesses.
"We are going beyond the area in which there were likely to have been immediate effects from any chemical agent (nerve gas) exposure," White said. "Since there is evidence that chemical weapons were present during the demolition of a bunker and crated munitions in a pit area, we are asking for help from our people in learning more about what happened.
"The story of Khamisiyah is still incomplete," White said. "We are putting the puzzle together, and we want those who were there to help us fill in the missing pieces." Anyone with information about March 1991 weapons demolitions should call DoD at 18004726719.
"At the same time we are asking our Gulf War veterans to help, we want to assure them that we take care of our own," White added. "An aggressive health care outreach effort is being carried out to these 20,000 Gulf War veterans. For any of them who have health concerns, we are asking that they contact us or the [Department of Veterans Affairs] so that we can give them a medical evaluation." Active and reserve component members should call 18007969699. Veterans should call the VA health registry at 18007498387.
"Khamisiyah is a watershed event in our search for information and understanding of Gulf War illnesses," White said. "It is the first event where we can place American troops in an area where we believe chemical weapons were destroyed. To our knowledge, service members at that time did not report the symptoms associated with exposure to chemical agents, but our search for information continues.
"The possibility that some individuals could have been exposed at low levels has caused us to review our clinical and investigative protocols. We want to reassure our veterans that no effort will be spared in understanding Gulf War veterans illnesses, and no Gulf War veterans will be without the health care they need."
In August, DoD began contacting 1,168 U.S. service members assigned to units involved in the March 4, 1991, demolition operations at the Khamisiyah bunker complex. The veterans were asked to call the DoD Persian Gulf Veterans hot line to report any medical problems they may be experiencing and provide any information they believe pertinent to this service incident.
To date, DoD has contacted more than 500 of these members by phone. The department will send certified letters to the remainder.
In addition, DoD is investigating the possibility of another detonation at the Khamisiyah complex on March 12, two days after the demolition reported earlier. Officials don't know if the unit logs containing this report are accurate or if such a demolition occurred if chemical munitions were involved.
In addition to the outreach program, DoD will spend up to $15 million for new research into the possible effects of lowlevel exposure to chemical agents and another $12 million for general research on other possible causes of Gulf War illnesses.
"We are always concerned with the health of our troops especially when they are deployed to unfamiliar environments where they may be exposed to chemical weapons," White said. "We will continue to investigate incidents that may have exposed our troops to chemical weapons or to unknown substances, and to assess and provide for the health of our Gulf War veterans."