DoD Further Expands Persian Gulf Illness Efforts
By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Nov. 18, 1996 Deputy Secretary of Defense John P. White announced Nov. 12 he is increasing the size of the Persian Gulf illnesses investigative team from 12 to 110 people and pumping an additional $27 million into the DoD investigation.
White named Bernard Rostker as the special assistant for Gulf War illnesses to direct the enhanced efforts. Assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, Rostker previously headed the smaller Persian Gulf illness action team. Dr. Stephen Joseph, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, will continue responsibility for all clinical programs.
"It has become apparent that there is still much that is unknown about how Gulf War service may have affected the health of those who served," White said. "New information recently gathered from a variety of sources, including individuals who served, demands new and different expertise. For this reason, it is important to ensure this new organization has the proper priority and sufficient resources to ensure we are taking the best possible care of those who served."
During remarks to soldiers at Fort Sill, Okla., Oct. 29, Defense Secretary William Perry said DoD is committed to resolving all health concerns of Gulf War veterans.
"Our policy on the illnesses associated with the Gulf War is very simple and straightforward," Perry said. "We want to and we will provide the best possible medical care for all of the active duty, all of the reserves and all of the veterans who are associated with that -- no questions asked. We simply provide that whether or not we understand what caused the illness. So the first policy is no questions asked, provide high quality medical care for them.
"Secondly, through our research programs, we want to find out what is causing them. In that, we have not succeeded. In the first program, we are succeeding. We are providing the medical care. But in spite of the best efforts of our medical scientists, to this point they have not been able to identify a cause associated with the Gulf War illness.
"It's a complex and difficult issue, but I have told our veterans and our active duty soldiers we will continue to put our best and our strongest efforts into trying to get an answer to that."
Rostker will coordinate DoD activities relating to the department's inquiries into the nature and causes of Gulf War illnesses.
"I look forward to working closely with Gulf War veterans, both those on active duty and those no longer serving," Rostker said. "This team's mission is to aggressively increase our outreach to those who served in the Gulf War and to ensure they are aware of and receive appropriate medical care. I will leave no stone unturned in looking for the causes of these illnesses and will ensure that the department applies the lessons learned to future deployments."
White directed the new team to spare no effort in investigating all incidents potentially related to illnesses being experienced by those who served in the Gulf War. He said the team must ensure Gulf War veterans are aware of and receiving necessary medical care for any problems they may have as a result of their service in the gulf.
"The new group will be made up of representative elements of critical DoD components to ensure that our research efforts, analytical efforts and outreach programs are effective, coordinated, meaningful and build on the very valuable work accomplished by the many organizations throughout DoD that have been working so hard on this vexing problem," Rostker said.
To facilitate these efforts, White also directed:
- Reconstitution of the senior level oversight panel he chairs. The panel membership will consist of the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretaries of the military departments, the undersecretaries of defense and the assistant secretaries of defense for public affairs and health affairs.
- Establishment of the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, under Rostker's direction;
- Transfer of the existing Persian Gulf investigation team to the Office of the Special Assistant;
- Termination of the staff office of the senior level oversight panel as a separate organization, with its personnel and functions transferred to the Office of the Special Assistant;
- Transfer of the existing "GulfLink" World Wide Web site sponsorship to the special assistant.
"The department is committed to taking care of those who served in the Gulf War," Rostker said. "We owe it to our service members both past and present to give these issues our highest priority."