DoD Supports Committee's Gulf Illness Findings
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 1997 Responding to the president's advisory committee final report on Gulf War veterans' illnesses, DoD officials described to reporters Jan. 8 what steps it has or will take to further its ongoing investigation.
The final report notes DoD has "acted in good faith" to improve how it has addressed Gulf War veterans' health issues. However, the report criticized the initial response to concerns about exposure to chemical weapons, which it said caused many veterans to lose faith in the government's ability to help them. It added, however, that current initiatives, combined with vigorous independent oversight, "could begin to restore public confidence in the government."
In announcing the final report Jan. 6, President Clinton extended the committee's life nine months to serve as an independent check on DoD's investigation.
Current DoD efforts not only are aimed at resolving Gulf War health issues, but also on better detection, protection and treatment of troops during future operations, according to Bernard Rostker, DoD special assistant for Gulf War illnesses. He said the department will continue providing care to Gulf war veterans and their families and is "doing everything possible to understand and explain Gulf War illnesses" and that DoD is putting into place military doctrines, personnel and medical policies, procedures and equipment to minimize future problems from chemical weapon exposure.
In November, DoD revamped and enlarged the investigative office Rostker heads, also changing the way it does business.The office now has enough investigators and analysts to fully review currently known exposures and the authority to search out and pursue any new incidents, he said.
In December, Rostker implemented new procedures for engaging callers on a special hot line set up to solicit information from veterans. "Today, when a veteran ... reports an incident, he or she is called back by a trained interviewer within four days," Rostker explained.
The call-back lasts about 30 minutes. The interviewer debriefs the caller and provides a single point of contact between Rostker's office and the veteran. This way, veterans can monitor the progress of the DoD investigation, Rostker said.
Veterans also can monitor the DoD investigation on the Internet. The department soon will revamp the Gulf Link web site (www.dtic.mil/gulflink/) to include weekly postings of new information and e-mail capability.
"We are also working with the National Academy of Sciences to provide the appropriate independent, vigorous oversight and look forward also to working with the presidential advisory committee in their newly expanded role," Rostker said.
"We in the department take this issue very seriously," added Deputy Secretary of Defense John White. "Fundamentally, it's an issue of force protection. It goes to the heart of our commitment and responsibility to the brave men and women who risk their lives for our country.
"Our commitment is to provide them with the best possible protection from disease and illness, the best possible treatment should they become ill, and the appropriate care and compensation should those illnesses become chronic. We do not shirk from this responsibility."