DoD News Briefing - Nov. 26, 1996
Tuesday, November 26, 1996 - 1:58 p.m.
[Also participating: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)]
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
I'm sorry to be starting early. The one day I start early in the whole two years I've been here, Charlie isn't even here to notice this. We'll have to send him the transcript.
Q: It's 28 minutes late as it is ....
A: Well, early after we readjusted the schedule. But we gave you fair notice on that.
First, I'd like to welcome 40 students from the Defense Information School today. It's students and instructors from the school which is out at Fort Meade, Maryland. When people think of public affairs they think of people like this and the DDI press office and people answering your questions, but a lot of what we do is communicate with the military. We do that through Armed Forces Radio and Television; through a series of newspapers around the globe; through broadcasts to ships and delivering tapes to ships -- and it's these people who train at DINFOS who do that job and do it extremely well. So welcome.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the Bosnia portion of the Secretary's upcoming trip? I notice some wire traffic, that there's a bit of consternation among the allies that the U.S. has been moving ahead on decisions vis-a-vis Bosnia without fully keeping them abreast of the situation. Is that your read?
A: First of all, I think you've mixed apples and oranges here. The Bosnia portion of the Secretary's trip is to have Thanksgiving dinner with the troops, and he's going there to meet American soldiers who are away from home on Thanksgiving, and also a small group of Russian soldiers who will be joining American soldiers for Thanksgiving dinner. That is the purpose of his trip to Bosnia.
In addition, he'll participate in an awards ceremony for General Nash. So this is basically a trip with a focus on soldiers.
The second issue about the allies, I can't really explain why they feel that way. We have been, I think, assiduous in announcing what our policies are. We've certainly been very involved in discussions, certainly from the Bergen conference in October on. We have laid out exactly what our views were and what our concerns were, and we're continuing to do that today. My impression is -- and based on conversations with the Secretary, based on his conversations with other NATO Defense Ministers -- that people are pleased by the U.S. position and they understand why we made the decision we made, and they're generally very supportive of it.
Q: An update on the number of troops in Zaire and where this stands at the moment. Are you sort of in standby while the diplomats sort it out, or where is that ...
A: You took my map, I think, didn't you? There are about 330 or 340 people in the theater now. When Captain Doubleday comes back I'll give you the exact numbers on where they're disbursed. Basically, most of them remain in Entebbe. We have some in Kigali and also some in Mombasa, Kenya. This number is actually down by more than 100, from last Thursday when I briefed you, because a TALCE unit that had gone to Mombasa has left. So, we're in a position to build an air bridge when we have to do it, we've sized our mission to what we think we might have to do, but basically no decision has been made to go forward.
Q: The TALCE unit has redeployed to the States?
A: It's been redeployed to Kuwait.
Q: If, in fact.... There were some clips in the Early Bird this morning that said a broader, multinational military effort may not be necessary. If that is, in fact, the case, would the military people that we have down there stay to assist in the relief effort, or would they come out?
A: I think all of that remains to be decided. We've been willing to participate in the relief effort from the beginning. In fact, that was our goal. Our goal was never to mount a military operation in Eastern Africa. Our goal was to assist in the provision of humanitarian aid and to assist in the repatriation of refugees. The refugees have been repatriating themselves very quickly and smoothly, so that's a part of the job we haven't had to take on. That's one of the reasons why we and the rest of the international community are still watching and waiting to see what the best course of action is.
Let me bring you up to date on the numbers, if you're interested. There are a total of 358 Americans in the region. That includes 243 in Entebbe; 26 at Kigali; and 89 in Mombasa.
Q: Now that some of the prepositioned assets have gone elsewhere, how much has this whole prepositioning effort cost?
A: I'm afraid I can't answer that question. I just don't know. I'll try to get the answer for you, if we know.
Q: Going back to Bosnia, it seems inconceivable that after almost a year now, no war criminals have been arrested, in the sense that no one has bumped into any war criminals. Do you find that inconceivable?
A: I don't find it inconceivable because it's happened. Therefore, it's easy to conceive.
Q: Is there any consideration given to changing the mission in the SFOR so there's more likelihood they'll bump into some of these war criminals?
A: Let me make a couple of points about that. The first is that the atrocities of which war criminals have been charged are no longer going on. Eighteen months ago atrocities were being committed in Bosnia. No atrocities we know of have been committed since the Dayton Accords -- in fact, since a little before the Dayton Accords. So there's been a year or longer of no atrocities.
Secondly, a number of these war criminals have lost or been pushed out of the positions of influence they held prior to the Dayton Accords. We've been reading recently about the dispute over General Mladic with the President of the Republic of Serbska, for instance, so there have been changes in their position. Some war criminals, a small number, have been turned over to the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague.
It is the job of the parties to the Dayton Agreement to collect and turn over war criminals to the Hague. It is not the job of IFOR. The position of IFOR has been very clear from the beginning -- which is, it will not go out and seek war criminals. It will not collect war criminals. IFOR is not a police organization. It will, if it encounters war criminals, detain them and turn them over to the proper police authorities. That is the rule under which IFOR has been operating, and it's also the rule under which the Stabilization Force will operate. We do not anticipate any change in that rule under the Stabilization Force.
Q: Speaking of war criminals, is it the Pentagon's opinion that General Mladic remains in control of the Bosnian Serbian military in spite of his being fired by the interim President?
A: This is clearly something that's being worked out now within the Republic of Serbska. Clearly, the President of the Republic of Serbska is in the process of putting her own people in control of the military.
Q: From our standpoint, who's giving orders to the Bosnian Serb troops?
A: I think the important thing to focus on here is that there is now peace in Bosnia, and neither the Serb army nor the Federation army is fighting at this time. So, in a sense, they aren't being ordered around as armies as they used to be. That's the most important thing to focus on.
Q: Have the weapons that were being withheld because of the disagreement over the one Federation official, since he's departed, are those weapons now being delivered to the Federation troops?
A: I believe they all have been unloaded with, perhaps, one possible exception, but they're in the process of being unloaded from the ship, the American Condor.
Q: Do you have any comment about the article in the New York Times today related to studies on the Gulf War Syndrome?
A: I'm going to let Bernie Rostker comment on that. Let me take questions on other issues, and then we'll move to Gulf War.
Q: Can I ask you about another report which is coming up in an upcoming issue of U.S. News and World Report, and on "60 Minutes," in which they claim -- both news organizations -- that there have been thousands of instances where surplus lethal weapons have been sold by the Pentagon without being rendered harmless or turned into scrap as apparently required by law. This is a big problem. Can you comment on whether or not that practice is going on and whether or not it's a problem?
A: There are some problems with the surplus disposal operation. We've been working since 1993 to correct these problems. I can't talk about the numbers of weapons that may have been sold improperly, but I can give you a brief description of how the program is supposed to work.
When DoD material is declared in excess, the first goal is to see ... If it's declared in excess at a particular base or by a branch of the service, the first goal is to see if it can be reused by another branch of the service. So the first goal is reuse. Last year, approximately $4.1 billion worth of material was turned over to somebody else and kept in service. That's in terms of acquisition costs, original acquisition costs. So a used car lot cost would be a lot less. But that's the first goal.
The second is for those that cannot be used by someone else in the military, is to demilitarize it, if it's a weapon, and much of the stuff isn't weaponry, as I understand it, so that it can't be used for military purposes. And then sold or destroyed. I think it's in this area that the U.S. News and the CBS people have been looking. There have been some problems. I don't know the magnitude of the problem there, but we have been working hard to try to reduce these problems.
The third priority is to transfer or donate the equipment if we can't sell it -- either in its demilitarized form or sell it for scrap. Obviously, some weapons, like an old tank, presumably could only be turned into scrap and sold.
So that's the third, the transfer-donation. While doing all these things, the goal is to try to maximize the amount of revenue we get through the disposal of surplus items.
Some items have been improperly coded, and one of the things that the Defense Reutilization Agency has been working on is trying to figure out a more foolproof way of disposing of and demilitarizing equipment, and that's included coming up with, sort of reviewing the way six million items are coded and carried in their catalog of items that are disposed of. That's one of the things that's been happening in the last couple of years on this.
Q: What's the coding supposed to do?
A: The coding is supposed to make it easier to figure out what to do with a piece of equipment when it comes up. We don't have generals supervising this stuff as it leaves logistics centers or bases and goes into the disposal area. So it's supposed to make it easier and more foolproof when we identify stuff that can be sold right off; that can be transferred to state or local agencies; or that has to be demilitarized.
Q: To whom have some of these weapons been improperly sold?
A: Well, I don't know that.
Q: I mean, are we talking agencies or individuals or other governments?
A: Usually, dealers buy this stuff. Frequently dealers would come and buy the stuff, and then they resell it. Now there are rules against reselling certain types of material to foreign governments. We do work carefully with the Customs agency to enforce those rules, and we have been redoubling our efforts to work with them to deal with these problems.
Q: Does the Pentagon believe that any of these weapons made it into hands of governments hostile to the United States?
A: I can't answer that question. I just don't know.
Q: What about militia organizations?
A: I don't know the answer to that question, either. Whether some of it has gone to militia organizations.
Q: Is there some way you could find out?
A: I will try to find out.
Q: How much does the U.S. get from sales of this -- in the last, say, fiscal year?
A: In FY95 -- the last year we have figures for the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service -- we disposed of ... We sold $302.3 million worth of equipment. As I said, $4.1 billion worth of equipment ... The $302 million is what we received cash money for the stuff. The $4.1 billion worth of reused equipment I spoke of earlier is at the purchase value, so obviously it doesn't take into account depreciation.
Q: Do you know how much was given away? The value of what was given away?
A: I don't know that. I'm in the process of trying to get figures. That's what was just handed to me. But we only focused on this about 15 minutes ago, and because of my dedication to briefing on time I didn't have the necessary time to gather all the facts here on this, but they're coming in at a rapid rate. However, this is something about the American Condor, so I won't read it to you.
Q: When you said there were problems, were you talking about problems of them being sold to the wrong people? It sounded from your answer as like those were not the problems you're talking about.
A: I think there are several problems. The first problem is that material that should have been demilitarized has not been properly demilitarized and was sold when it shouldn't have been. That's the first problem. The second problem is that as a result of this, some of it may have ended up in places we wouldn't want military equipment to end up. That would happen through dealers. But that's what I'm trying to find out. The two things I've agreed to get answers on is whether this has gone to foreign countries, some of it's gone to foreign countries, and whether some of it's gone to militia groups.
Now, I want to point out that we may not know who the end users of these are because unless we sell them directly to end users, we might not trace them through dealers. But we will do our best to find out.
Q: Are there any regulations on who the dealers are that you can sell them to?
A: There are ... That's an interesting question and I don't know the answer to that question. Glenn Flood is the font of knowledge on this and he'll be able to give you the answer to that question.
There are certainly concerns about selling them to improper people, but I don't know whether those are concerns or whether they're actual regulations. This being the military, I'm sure there are regulations governing end sale.
Q: The news organizations that were previously cited are going to report that millions of dollars of surplus weapons were found in the hands of foreign buyers, particularly in China. And that they also ended up in the hands of Russian organized crime groups.
A: Russian organized crime groups? I cannot confirm that.
Q: Do you know how much was sold directly to China?
A: I do not. I doubt if any was sold directly to China.
Q: You said earlier that there were problems and you're working to correct them. Can you give us any idea about what kind of corrective action is ...
A: I gave you a long description of coding, of trying to come up with a more accurate coding technique that will make it easier to deal with these.
My understanding is that there are catalogs put out of excess equipment, and there are also auctions. I'm not an expert on the auction process or on the catalogs, but a lot of this stuff is sold in sort of a fairly organized and unexciting way, I think. The question is, have we been adequately supervising what's sold and how it's sold? That's what we've been trying to address for the last several years. The recataloging is part of that.
Q: Is this just a case of something slipping through the cracks, or is there a big problem where a lot of things are getting out that aren't supposed to get out?
A: I don't know the dimensions of the problem. I don't think it's a huge problem. The military has been downsizing. The size of the active duty force has been cut by 33 percent. Our bases have been cut by almost 30 percent under the BRAC process. Therefore, we need less equipment. In the Navy, alone, the number of ships has declined by about 200 or more, I think. I think you could find comparable reductions in equipment and weaponry across the board, in every service. So there has been, over time, either because it's wearing out or because we don't need as much for a smaller force, there has been, over time, a fairly large number of sales made.
Q: Why isn't it just destroyed? Why is it being sold?
A: Because that wouldn't be maximizing our revenue. What we're trying to do is find the balance between getting as much money as we can for this excess equipment and disposing of it in a way that is not improper.
Q: Are the proceeds of these sales dedicated to some special purpose, or do they just go into a general account ...
A: My impression is they go back into the general funds.
Q: Can you describe what you mean by demilitarization? You mean taking the military insignia off of a piece of equipment, or making ...
A: In some cases, making it so it can't operate as a weapon.
Q: What would a dealer want with a demilitarized weapon anyway?
A: One thing a dealer might want is scrap, so some weapons could be demilitarized and actually turned into scrap and sold as scrap. You could imagine a Jeep that had a machine gun on it. If you took the machine gun off or the machine gun mounting off, it could still operate as a Jeep or as a vehicle. You could do that with trucks as well. That would be one example of demilitarizing a piece of equipment that would still be useful.
Q: Can you go back to the coding again? So every piece of equipment has some sort of coding system on it that's supposed to tell the seller or the handler that they are supposed to demilitarize it? Is that what the coding system does?
A: Starting in 1993, we did a review of the policies for disposing of unneeded equipment, and we found basically there were three groups of problems. The first was that there was either a lack of clear policy or a failure to follow the policy that did exist. And that pertained, especially, to the procedures for demilitarizing and the types of equipment that had to be demilitarized.
The second group of problems referred to conflicts among the sales priorities or the disposal priorities. I spoke earlier that the first priority is to reuse the equipment by another branch of the service, and that one of the priorities was to maximize revenue from the sales. Obviously, you get more ... If your goal is to maximize revenues and you do not demilitarize properly in order to maximize revenues, you are favoring the wrong goal here. This is what's meant by a conflict between goals.
The third type of problem were criminal problems where either the people involved, either the buyers or the people involved in selling, were somehow committing crimes.
Those are the three areas that were focused on based on a study several years ago.
So, starting in 1993, there was a major effort made to clean this up, and one part of that was to conduct an item-by-item review of the coding or demilitarization coding on 600 items of active stock. There were many problems found in this coding review, as I said earlier. For instance, some spare parts of major items that applied only to weapons that should have been demilitarized and could only be used in weapons, were just lumped together as parts, sort of undefined parts. In other words, you might come in and buy parts to tanks that had been lumped improperly together as just sort of undefined spare parts.
So a new manual was developed to help managers manage the demilitarization and surplus sales process and one of the things it did was to help them correct wrong coding decisions so they didn't mistakenly lump together specific items as more general nondescript parts. And also, to give them better guidance on how to correct errors once they found the errors existed.
We are in the process now of rewriting manuals and procedures that haven't been previously cleaned up.
There seems to be a lot of interest in this, and I would be glad to bring down a reutilization expert, if you'd like, to brief you further on this.
A: Maybe we can do it today. [See transcript of Senior Defense Official on this subject, Tuesday, November 26, 1996]
Q: May I ask a Zaire question, then? Do any of the American assets in the area, are any of them able to tell you or give you a better sense of the refugee problem in Zaire, any numbers or anything? There were reports on the wires today that there are huge numbers of people queuing up near Goma. We're still trying to get a handle on the numbers ...
A: So are we. But, basically, there were -- we think -- between 550,000 and 600,000 people have already left Eastern Zaire and gone into Rwanda. In addition, there are probably nearly 100,000 people who have gone into Burundi or Tanzania. Maybe some of those into Rwanda as well. They've gone in more from the south into other countries, rather than up by Goma.
There have been, over the last several days, large groups of refugees moving up just inside Zaire, moving north along Lake Kivu. The question was, when they got up toward Goma, were they going to turn left or west, or were they going to turn right or east? If they turned right, or east, looking at a map, they would go into Rwanda. If they turned west, they would go into Eastern Zaire and sort of fade into the mountains or into the vegetation. They do appear to be turning -- at least some significant number of them do -- appear to be turning east and going into Rwanda. So the repatriation -- the peaceful, successful repatriation -- is continuing. That's one of the things we continue to watch as the international community decides what's needed to deal with this problem.
Q: So any sense of how many are still ....
A: I'm afraid I don't have a sense of that. That's where all the debate's been. There have been numbers that have ranged from 100,000 or 200,000 up to a higher number.
Q: Who will actually make the ultimate decision about where to go from here with this mission?
A: The international community. The Canadians have taken the leadership in this in setting up meetings, in calling nations together to discuss this. I assume that they'll take the lead in trying to set up some sort of a format for making a decision. But I don't think anybody ... I think the conclusion you have to draw from what the Canadian Defense Minister, Minister Young said yesterday, and from what Secretary Perry said yesterday, and what Glyn Davies said at the State Department yesterday was that we want to have the fullest possible picture of what's happening over there before we decide what to do. Right now the picture continues to change, and it's changing in the right direction.
Q: Can you give us an update on the Navy's surveillance flights over there? I understand they've picked up again. Are they flying higher than they were last week?
A: Last week the P-3s were flying high enough to avoid being shot at or being hit ... They were shot at, they weren't hit. They continue to fly at a height that keeps them safe. We have actually boosted our P-3 fleet, and I believe we're in the process of moving in two other P-3s now. There will be a total of, I believe, three there by the end of today or early tomorrow.
Q: Where were they based, in Sicily?
A: They're based in Entebbe.
Q: Next briefer, please?
Mr. Rostker: Good afternoon. I'll be happy to take any questions.
Q: Obviously we're interested in the New York Times story this morning and whether or not this information, the study quoted in there ... How is that different from the figures that were released a year ago, and can we answer the question at this point whether or not there is, in fact, a higher incidence ... Not life threatening, but nevertheless debilitating ailments among veterans who served in the Persian Gulf as opposed to troops who didn't go.
A: I'm not sure of the reference to a year ago, but I would say that in some ways this is not new news. The study was briefed at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association on October 31, 1995, and let me quote from the abstract. "Deployed Seabees self-reported a higher prevalence of exposures and symptoms, as well as a higher source of abnormal psychological variables."
The study is in its final peer review, and it will be published, we expect, within the next six months. The study does show a higher rate of symptoms -- self-reported symptoms -- among Seabees who served in the Gulf than among their colleagues who did not serve in the Gulf. The study does not deal with cause. It does not deal with medical diagnoses. It deals with self- reported symptoms. These people are not well. They are hurting, and we are committed to first provide them with the medical care that they need, and even if we don't know the cause we can treat the symptoms; and to try to get at the bottom of it so that we can have an explanation for them, so we can have better medicine. But also so we can better understand this for the future so we can design our systems to protect our soldiers in the future.
Q: Just to clarify, the Times report this morning refers to two studies. You're talking about the Gray study?
A: I was talking about the study of Seabees, which was done by Dr. Gray at the Navy Research Center in San Diego.
Q: ... the CDC study?
A: I don't know anything about the CDC study. I read it just as you did, so I have no first-hand knowledge about the CDC study.
Q: In light of your remarks two weeks ago when you took this job, in cooperation and coordination with other departments, like the Veterans Affairs Department, many of the VA doctors believe they are the target of a purge, either for their cooperation with Congress or for their research on Gulf War Syndrome. I mention, specifically, Dr. Katherine Marie Leisure at the Lebanon VA Center; Dr. William Braunschweiger in the LA Medical Center -- both of whom have been dismissed. And then under congressional pressure, reextended in the last week.
A: I would have to refer you to the Department of Veterans Affairs. I know nothing of those cases.
Q: Will you seek to inform yourself of that? Will you look into it?
A: This is really something for the Department of Veterans Affairs. I can tell ...
Q: ... two weeks ago as the point man on this.
A: For the Department of Defense in coordination with the Veterans Affairs, but you're talking about something that really falls well within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I have no indication that there's any such charges, or any such concerns, within the Department of Defense that any doctor, any health provider has had anything suggested to them except the fullest cooperation with our veterans, and to provide them with all of the services that they need. So, I'd be very concerned, but it is not something that at this point relates to the Department of Defense.
Q: Do you have any information about how many of the Seabees included in the study might have been anywhere near Khamisiyah at the time?
A: We don't. And I will be going back to the Navy unit and asking them to follow up on the sample of approximately 1,500 with coordination with the CDC. It's not been cross-tabulated with the CDC even. So we have some more work to do, but I want to do that in a way that does not delay the publication of the original study. I think there's some more farming we can do, and I'll be working with Dr. Joseph to make sure we get the maximum benefit from that work.
Q: Just to follow up, maybe this wasn't part of the study, but there is no indication, or is there, that there was any problem in the Navy beyond the Seabees? That somehow people aboard ships got sick?
A: No, this was a study strictly of Seabees, so you cannot generalize it past that. What the researchers did was to go to the two large Seabee centers at Port Hueneme and Gulfport, and on a voluntary basis they involved in the study, interviewed some 1,500, give or take a few, and a portion of those, I don't have the exact numbers, had been in the Gulf, and the larger proportion had not been in the Gulf. But it was a voluntary study, and it was not a clinical evaluation.
Let me stress that we really want people who have ailments, who have symptoms, who aren't well, to come into the CDC if they're active duty or if they're reserves; to go to the Veterans Administration if they're a veteran, to have an evaluation. I'm not into pop medicine and pop evaluations. It's important that a physician see these folks and make a determination of whether there is a diagnosis, and I would remind you that the vast majority of people, both in the VA panels and in Defense, have straightforward diagnoses. So it's very important that they be seen by a physician and get the proper medical care.
Q: I just want to clarify, the New York Times report refers to a study from the Centers for Disease Control, the early results of which were published in the morbidity/mortality weekly report from last year. We've obtained a copy of this study which, as I said, was released in June of last year, and it refers to an investigation at an Air National Guard unit in Pennsylvania. You don't know anything about this?
A: I have not seen that study. And the same publication was also the source of the epidemiological study of morbidity among Gulf War veterans, referring to the Seabees. That was the source of both of these. But I have talked to the DoD researchers and we've been over those results, and it has resulted in my asking for additional correlations and an assessment of this particular panel against the CCED.
Q: To get back to the larger question, the implication in the story is that we now know for a fact that because of these two studies, that veterans who served in the Gulf have these illnesses at a higher rate than those who didn't.
A: You used the word "illnesses," and the studies used the word "symptoms." We know people have symptoms. We don't know the diagnosis of the symptoms.
Q: Do we know that they have symptoms at a higher rate, higher incidence, than those who didn't serve in the Gulf?
A: Yes. And our point of reference here for our study are 1,500 Seabees who served and did not serve.
Q: You said those were self-reported.
Q: If it's self-reported, isn't there a higher inclination of people who have ailments to report them than those who feel fine? And doesn't that suggest there needs to be more research ...
A: There is. And, as we've said, this isn't the end of the research, it's the start of the research. We're putting millions of dollars more into the research, because the most important question is, Why are people sick? The press has been telling us, and these studies confirm, that there are people out there that are ill. I see it when I travel around. I was at Fort McClellan yesterday and I talked to veterans who clearly had symptoms, but they have not, even working with our people, they do not have diagnoses. The treatment they're getting is of the symptoms, and it's very important that we try to understand what's behind this. But there's no question that these two studies show that people who served in the Gulf have more symptoms, and they're symptoms in the range we're talking about - - headaches, diarrhea, and those kinds of things, yes.
Q: What about other things that aren't mentioned, such as birth defects?
A: There have been studies on birth defects. As you know, there were studies that were released through the New England Journal of Medicine last week on hospitalization rates and mortality. At those levels, birth defects, hospitalization, and mortality, we're not seeing any difference. But that's a high hurdle to jump over.
There's no question that people -- some of them still on active duty -- have symptoms and we can't adequately explain to them, or to ourselves, why they are not well.
Q: But, in your mind, this question has been answered about whether, for these symptoms, Gulf War veterans are suffering these at a higher rate than ...
A: Let's see the study published in terms of the symptoms. My recollection is they did cover the kinds of symptoms we're talking about, but I don't have the study here and it's not finished the peer review process, but there is no question that there was a considerably higher rate of self-reported symptoms for those who served in the Gulf than those who did not.
Q: This is a very basic research question, but, so these are self-reported symptoms. They're not medically validated symptoms?
A: That's right.
Q: In this study was there any effort made to then have doctors examine the people and figure out whether, indeed, they did have more chronic fatigue ...
A: And that's why we want to look at the place where they would have had the assessment would have been through the CCEP program. That's why I've asked the health researchers to go back and correlate these results with the CCEP results so that we can see who came in ... There are different thresholds here. Having a symptom, having a complaint is one threshold. Acting on it by going to the doctor and getting into the panel is another threshold. Being so sick that you're hospitalized is a third threshold. We're working here with a wide range of complaints that are clearly below the hospitalization level. That's what the earliest studies show. That doesn't mean these people aren't sick. They are sick, and we need to try to find out. So we're encouraging them that if they are ill to come into the evaluation programs, and that is the first basis -- to get a physician to look at it and try and get a diagnosis.
Q: I don't actually understand the purpose of studying self-reported illnesses. Why not make an effort to figure out through some medical means, clinical means, whatever, whether people are sick?
A: This all starts with a voluntary process of making yourself known, and in this particular case -- and we've been interested in the epidemiology of this from the very beginning. In this particular case, they went in, they tried to draw a random population, they asked the people how they felt, and now will go back and see whether those who indicated that they had complaints had taken the next step and had registered with the program and gotten a physical, and then we can try to correlate that.
Q: So are there several steps to this particular study?
A: No, this particular study went out, as I understand it, went out to the Seabee Centers, and asked for volunteers and drew 1,500 folks, of which a large proportion, 500 or 600 if recollection serves, had served in the Gulf and the other group had not served in the Gulf. They were given medical questionnaires. On the questionnaires they indicated that they had some symptoms and they described the symptoms. It's a fairly rich study. But they were not ordered to go to the hospital. Clearly, if they had symptoms, the program, the CCEP was in place, and we encouraged them to go and see a physician to make sure for themselves -- but it also provides us with the data to answer the kind of questions that you have.
Q: What was the rough timeframe of them filling out these forms?
A: The study started on June 1, 1994. Substantially completed. It was in peer review when I saw it about three weeks ago, four weeks ago, and one of their outside reviewers from a major Southern California medical center had asked for some additional statistical work. They were doing that, and then they were planning on publishing that in an appropriate medical journal.
It's very important that we let them go through that process because that's not only our ultimate quality control, but your quality control, because their peer review process is not peer review within the Department, but it's peer review among their professional colleagues. So they have to stand that test, and it serves us best if we go ahead and do that. Again, we wouldn't do anything different. We have the CCEP open and we've been encouraging people to come in, so we continue to do that. So I'm giving you the information that actually was in the public domain.
It came about because in the interview we're talking about how I viewed people and were people more ill, and I said, Yes, I've seen work that suggests that people are more ill, at least in terms of symptoms. Not necessarily diagnoses.
Q: How much more ill? What was the rate?
A: I'd rather wait for the study to come out. But my recollection is it was quite significant. It was statistically significant.
Q: You couldn't tell us now?
A: I don't remember.
Q: I was wondering for a comparison ...
A: I don't have that. It was sufficient that it jumped off the briefing chart at me. These bars of reported rates were not next to each other. They were ...
Q: You don't want to say what it is, or ...
A: I don't remember. I don't remember, and I'd prefer to let the peer review process have its go so that when we report the results they will be fully reviewed by outside experts.
Q: How is it that you're, I realize you're new in this position, but how is it that you're the top person here at the Pentagon in charge of this issue, and a study that's done by the Centers for Disease Control, that's been out for more than a year and published in this morning's New York Times, complete with a chart, and now eight hours later you come down to brief us and you know nothing about it. What does that do to your credibility?
A: I can only tell you that I'm not the expert on the CDC study. I came down to talk to you about the Navy study, to the extent I could.
Q: Do these two studies still leave open a possibility, then, that there is a Gulf War illness, or are these symptoms, even though they're roughly the same, so general that there is not a possibility of a ...
A: I don't know. That's why we're carrying on a whole range of research, and I have no idea at this point whether we will ever settle on a single cause, a syndrome. We know that people who were in the Gulf have symptoms at rates higher than their compatriots, their colleagues, and the data has to stand for itself.
Q: What other explanation would there be?
A: I have no explanation. As I said, the data has to stand for itself. I think the important thing is that we're focusing resources to try to understand what might be causing this, because we think it's important for the vets, for us, and for future generations of soldiers.
Q: You say, "... have symptoms in greater numbers." Are you talking again just self-reported symptoms, or are you talking symptoms that have been somehow medically verified? Are you lumping them all together?
A: I'm not a physician, as you know. I'm talking about the complaints of the vets. Those are the symptoms that they have, and I would draw a distinction between symptoms and diagnoses. There is no diagnoses here. This is the raw symptoms going in. It's the same thing you all, frankly, see when you have interviews with vets. You don't have a physician at your side saying, Now, is this real or not real. You take what the vet is complaining about and you report that, and that's important. That's how that person feels. That has to be dealt with and has to be treated.
Q: You started to list some of the symptoms a while ago. You started with headaches ...
A: It's pretty well the standard -- headaches, muscle pain, aches and pains, diarrhea, and the like.
Press: Thank you.