Pentagon Broadens Gulf War Illness Investigation
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 1996 Deputy Secretary of Defense John White took control Sept. 25 of the Pentagon's investigation of illnesses reported by Gulf War veterans.
White ordered creation of a DoD action team to reassess the ongoing investigation, previously managed by Dr. Stephen Joseph, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. Reporting directly to White, the team will draw on analytical and management resources outside Joseph's purview to help determine any necessary organizational, resource and personnel initiatives, DoD officials said.
More than 3,000 Desert Storm veterans have complained of fatigue, headaches, sore joints and other maladies they believe may have been caused by Iraqi chemical weapons. Initially, investigators said they could find no conclusive evidence any Gulf War veterans were exposed to chemical weapons.
This summer, however, the Pentagon announced Army engineers destroyed Iraqi ammunition at the Khamisiyah weapons storage complex in southern Iraq on March 10, 1991. The munitions may have contained the chemical nerve agents sarin and cyclosarin, Pentagon officials said.
On Sept. 18, White expanded the notification program to Gulf War veterans who may have been exposed to low levels of chemical agents resulting from the munitions demolition. Veterans who were in the Khamisiyah area in March 1991 and have not already enrolled in either the DoD or Department of Veterans Affairs registry and examination program should call DoD at 18007969699 or VA at 18007498387.
White announced his latest actions in a letter to Sen. Strom Thurmond, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman. "New information recently gathered from a variety of sources, including veterans who served in the gulf, demands new and different expertise," he said.
The action team will ensure DoD activities are wellcoordinated and a single focal point within DoD exists for monitoring all actions related to Persian Gulf veterans illnesses, officials added. Other actions White ordered include:
- A $5 million research effort into the possible effects of lowlevel chemical exposure and direction to the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs to identify other research projects where more resources could be useful;
- Broadening clinical investigation efforts to include personnel in the area of potential exposure around the Khamisiyah ammunition storage facility;
- Requesting the Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine to revalidate DoD clinical protocols and practices in light of possible lowlevel exposure;
- Directing the Army to conduct an inspector general inquiry into events surrounding the destruction of munitions at Khamisiyah and to supplement the efforts of the DoD Persian Gulf Investigation Team where possible;
- Directing the assistant to the secretary of defense for intelligence oversight to investigate intelligence information the United States received about activities that occurred at Khamisiyah in 1991, including how the information was handled;
- Requesting the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel to review procedures and guidelines for declassifying documents placed on "GulfLINK" and provide recommendations regarding the process. The GulfLINK Internet site, http://www.dtic.mil/gulflink/, provides public access to information collected about Persian Gulf illnesses.##
Joseph testified Sept. 25 before a joint hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Committee on Veterans Affairs about the possible exposure of U.S. troops to chemical weapons during and after the Persian Gulf War.
"Khamisiyah has changed the paradigm of our approach to Persian Gulf illnesses," Joseph said in a prepared statement. "Previously, we had a number of Gulf War veterans who were ill and we sought explanations for those illnesses. Now, we have evidence of possible chemical warfare agent exposures. It is imperative that we now attempt to find clinical evidence that might be linked to those exposures of our troops who were in the exposure zone."