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DoD News Briefing: Dr. Bernard Rostker, Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for GWI

Presenters: Dr. Bernard Rostker, Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for GWI
June 17, 1997 3:05 PM EDT

Dr. Bernard Rostker, Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for GWI

[Joining Dr. Rostker in this briefing is Gary Christopherson, Acting DASD(HA), and Captain Michael Doubleday, USN, DASD(PA).]

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon. Over the weekend, there was a news story about a draft General Accounting Office study on Gulf War illnesses. This is a subject that has the attention of a great many people here in the department.

Secretary Cohen spoke about the matter in a press conference in Kuwait earlier today, and, as many of you are aware, President Clinton issued a mandate in 1995 which focused the efforts of the executive branch on Gulf War illnesses. Since that time, the Pentagon has had a very extensive effort designed to understand the possible causes of illnesses afflicting Gulf War veterans.

In May 1994, the Department started a clinical evaluation program that has now registered about 42,000 veterans of the Gulf War.

On October 2, 1996, Secretary Perry named Dr. Bernard Rostker as special assistant for Gulf War illnesses. Since then, Dr. Rostker has been expanding and managing the Pentagon's overall effort. In April, he started an 11-city tour to meet with veterans' organizations and others to answer their questions about this overall effort. He has also met with this group on several occasions.

Even before that, the Pentagon established a medical research effort under Dr. Steve Joseph, who was at the time the assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs. Helping coordinate that effort was Mr. Gary Christopherson, who is now the acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs.

Dr. Rostker and Mr. Christopherson wanted to meet with you today to address questions that you may have about the Department's Gulf War illnesses effort, particularly in light of this draft GAO report. We feel it's very important for the public and particularly for veterans' organizations to know that we have a very extensive effort underway to treat those who are ill and to understand as best we can the causes of Gulf War illnesses.

With that introduction, I'll turn things over to Dr. Rostker.

Dr. Rostker: Basically, I want to take your questions. I might, though, just take a moment. We have been working with the GAO for a number of weeks and, as has been noted, this was a draft report and we continue to work with the GAO over issues of fact and content.

My own assessment of this report is there's frankly little new in it. Much of the observations and many of the criticisms are criticisms that you've heard me make from this very podium, but unfortunately the report does not carry forward at least in its draft form enough of the things we are doing and the expanded scope of our inquiry.

I believe we have provided you all with copies of the latest response to the draft report, I think you have that, and there are examples in there, for example, the request for proposals on clinical follow-up, that talk directly to some of the work in the report and gets to the heart of their observations and we've responded to them, to those observations that have been made by ourselves and others.

So we continue to work with the GAO to make sure that a report of this significance is factually correct and is up to date and the draft report that was released by someone last week at this point was not factually correct nor up to date.

With that, I would be happy to take some questions.

Q: Well, do you think that it's factually correct that there is substantial evidence that the draft apparently says that sarin and other chemical weapons are associated with delayed and long-term side effects similar to those experienced by Gulf War veterans?

A: We have not reached that conclusion one way or the other. When I took this job, I promised a full and thorough investigation and, in fact, that review of the literature under our auspices is underway and we would look for us drawing some conclusions as to what that literature says. Part of that input is work done by the PAC, work done by others. That's a conclusion that we're not prepared to make a judgment on one way or the other.


Q: Obviously, GAO, then, felt they could make that conclusion, so have you looked at how they went about concluding that and what would you say about their methodology?

A: I mean, all of this methodology is a review of very scanty published literature and part of DoD's response is in fact to fund additional research in the area of low-level chemical exposure, some seven projects we will fund this year. So any conclusion has to be viewed as tentative as additional research comes in from an area again that was very, very scanty.

We don't dismiss it, but we don't accept it as the final answer, either. Moreover, the GAO report in several places talks about the importance of understanding what the potential exposure was and to say the least we're knee deep in that.

We have, as you know, had an extensive program of blowing up 120mm rockets at Dugway to understand what the release might have been in Khamisiyah and are committed by mid-July to have a final report with our colleagues in the CIA concerning possible exposure. So, again, these are areas that we take very, very seriously and are pressing forward on a myriad of fronts, but to say as the headline says, find evidence of chemical linkage, I think is too strong a statement at this point.

Q: Are you saying that the GAO report doesn't in fact find that linkage or that you dispute there is such a linkage?

A: The GAO report reviews the literature and is speculative and you can be speculative pro or con. We're saying it's an open question. We continue to treat people based upon the best medical science and the extent of exposure is critical so that we can get on with both the health research for this generation of veterans, but also so we understand the potential for the future.

Q: If I could just follow-up, sir, what does it do to your credibility when you say that this is an open question and the GAO report which some people would see as an independent arm of Congress, investigative arm of Congress, seems to come to a much different conclusion? What should the American public think when they try to reconcile those two views?

A: And I put that juxtaposed to the President's Advisory Committee, which was again an independent arm of distinguished citizens who brought to bear and came to a substantially different conclusion. The issue of credibility is frankly one reason we're here and talking to you, because this is not very helpful in that regard. I wish there was a clear cut answer, but there is not.

We continue to press our research in an open way to understand this. And our research is both in terms of what the literature says -- in I would say a much more thorough review than is indicated in the GAO report. And you'll have to wait to see our final report to judge that. But also everyone understands from the PAC, to the GAO, to ourselves how small the research base is that we're drawing conclusions from and that research base has to be expanded.

There is not a definitive research base to draw hard conclusions. They have more of a disagreement at this point with the PAC than they have with us. We just haven't drawn the conclusion.

Q: If there's very little in this report that's new, what is new, then?

A: In my reading of the report, it is more negative to epidemiological studies than is worthwhile, and I think represents a striking confusion over what we expect to get from epidemiological studies. I know you haven't seen the report and I'm not at liberty to release it, but I will quote one paragraph and I can illustrate this.

The GAO writes, "The object of epidemiological studies are to determine the extent of disease in the population." We would absolutely agree with that. And then it says, "the cause of disease, its modes of transportation, the natural history of disease and the basis for developing preventive strategies or interventions." I think that's not necessarily a definition that we would concur with in terms of epidemiological research. So when they attack epidemiological research, it's not clear what they really are attacking.

They are critical in the fact that six years after the war, with difficulty in understanding what the exposures were, any research that's going to get to causality is going to be very difficult and we concur with that. That's just a statement we cannot disagree with.

So we think that there needs to be a balanced program of epidemiological research, causality research. The other thing that GAO says is that we should do more follow-up research. And, again, we concur in that.

Now, doing follow-up research on treatment modalities is not easy. You can't just take the whole population and ask them how they feel at the beginning and then come along a year later and ask them how they feel at the end. It has to be done in a carefully controlled basis. You have to be able to know what the treatments were that you got, and then have some objective sense of what the outcome of those treatments were. That's why that kind of follow-on research needs to be done in a research context instead of a clinical context.

In other words, we draw a sample from people who were treated and we record and follow them over time. And that's, in fact, what we have put money aside to do. So, we would agree with their conclusion that we want to do that kind of research. We would point out, as we did in the letter to the GAO, that in this year's research RFPs in broad area announcements we asked for that kind of research.

We're just simply saying the GAO should have said, "And Defense is following through in this."

Q: What about the biological part of this report? It talked about the possibility of aflatoxin out there, which is something that it's hard, if not impossible, to detect. What are your --?

A: Again, we're looking at all of that, but biological is particularly difficult, not necessarily on the battlefield -- I'll come back to that in a minute. But we have no recorded biological incidence. So, what we're talking about are people who have certain complaints that they believe may be caused by biological agents rather than chemical agents. And we have research, including research with the Nicolson's, to try to get a handle on various aspects of the biological.

One of the things that the GAO report says several times is that -- and I can quote, "The U.S. lacks detection systems for biological weapons. Therefore, one cannot be certain that such weapons were not used." That's true retrospectively. Do we have a --

But since the Gulf War we have, in fact, fielded biological detectors. This is the unit and we have 30 of these --

A: Thirty-five.

A: Thirty-five in the field in deployable units. So, here is factual information. This is the vehicle that according to the GAO doesn't exist.

Q: So, what about the -- the general criticism of the biological seems to be like in the chemical that the Pentagon was too quick to discount biological weapons. For instance, haven't you pretty much ruled out aflatoxin?

A: Jamie, we're looking at the full range of potentials. When my office puts out a case narrative that deals with aflatoxins or biologicals in general, that's when the conclusion will have been reached. That's when we will have brought our research and our logic and our talents to bear on the problem and that's when we will say what we ruled out or haven't ruled out. Until then, we're keeping everything open. This is still an open case.

Q: Well, we talked to you about the hot theories and things that you're thinking are most likely. Aflatoxin is not one of those --

A: But biologicals in general are and we are considering biologicals.

Q: Why does the Pentagon go to such great levels to discredit findings of chemicals on the battlefield? For example, there was a cylinder of mustard gas found at Khafji High School. The major that was in charge of the chemical vehicles, the Fox vehicles --

A: Right.

Q: -- has been just ripped over the coals and discredited publicly about this. And, you know, the Marines discovered chemicals in the lanes and they've been discredited. You don't believe in your equipment. And these are people who are trained to use it. I mean what's happening here?

A: Well, let me deal with that because it gets to the heart of what my organization is trying to do.

We're not trying to discredit anybody. I've met with Major Johnson on several occasions. I respect what Major Johnson has to say. He knows what he saw, but what he saw or what others have seen are not necessarily the final word. We're following a methodology that is internationally accepted in terms of how to verify a chemical exposure.

We were criticized, you'll remember, viciously -- I shouldn't say viciously -- but extensively by the PAC for not investigating all of these incidents, for not giving a full accounting.

As we go through these accountings we're bringing to bear all of the information. When you site one of these cases you're not citing all of the information that there is to have on this.

Q: So what was in the tank?

We believe -- well, we haven't finished the report. We're waiting, again, to talk to the people who had samples of that chemical in England, but there's substantial evidence that what was in the tank was red fuming nitric acid.

Q: So, you're saying you could still reach the same conclusion as the GAO report, that troops at Khamisiyah and elsewhere could have been exposed to chemical weapons? You just haven't reached a conclusion yet, but you're not ruling it out.

A: Khamisiyah is a perfect example. We've been doing tests to understand what the release was like. We've gained substantial information that's going to be of value not only to the issue in Khamisiyah, but also to the issue of destruction in the field of chemical weapons. And we'll lay out all of the facts and we'll lay it out for you to see the methodology and understand what it is.

Q: The Presidential Advisory Committee came to the conclusion that there was not substantial evidence that chemical -- exposure to chemicals was resulting in the illnesses of veterans. Are you saying that this GAO report is essentially the same body of information and just comes to a different conclusion?

A: I believe so. And you'll have to get the response from the PAC itself. And they're also meeting with the GAO, but I believe that's a correct -- there is no new information that's being brought to bear here. It's the interpretation of the information that exists.

Q: You have read more and talked to more people than we'll ever have time to ever do. And realizing that the jury is out, that you want to find out what the various other inquiries produced, are you leaning any further to one side or the other than you were a year ago as to whether there is, indeed, a connection between veteran's illnesses in the Gulf and either chemical or biological exposure? How do you personally come down after your massive exposure to the facts?

A: You know, I don't want to avoid the question, but I'm -- but I am a trained scientist in this and the information is all -- the information isn't in. I think it's going to be very difficult to finally make definitive statements for all of the reasons the GAO cites. We don't have definitive exposures. We'll get an approximation of it as we go through the various case narratives.

Self-reporting of symptoms and the like is difficult. That's what the GAO says. We agree. But I think we can make some progress in gaining some insights.

And, again, I think we owe it to the veterans today to try to make better sense that went into the Gulf. And I stress almost as importantly as understanding what went on in the Gulf for the future so that we can make changes, and we've made some changes already that you know of, for the future generation of sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines. We just can't not learn from the Gulf experience.

Q: But you're personally saying you're not leaning more one way than the other any more than you were a year ago?

A: No, and there's a lot of contradictory information and I think we're still in very much a gathering stage.

Q: I just wanted to ask you if you have any sense that the GAO will change any of it's findings due to your objections, or do you believe that it will remain in the tone that the draft is?

A: Well, I think it's really up to the GAO. We can only point out to the GAO what we believe is factual errors. And those factual errors include a failure to appreciate the substantial work that has been done.

I mean, if we're going to have a big discussion -- GAO is going to have a big discussion on the need for clinical follow-up research. The fact that in November we moved in that direction, and have RFPs out on the street, and have proposals under review should be considered. And that's a main thing that we would like them to consider.

Q: One of the factual things in the report is their statement that of the 100,000 people who are registered with both DoD and VA, 90 percent of them are symptomatic. My understanding of these registries is that 90 percent are not symptomatic --

A: The numbers are not well written here, that's one of the problems. What they say is that 80 percent have diagnosis. Only 20 percent have no diagnosis. They go back then and say that some of the people who have diagnoses also are symptomatic. In other words, I might have arthritis and that can explain my joint problem but I might also be complaining of diarrhea.

Q: Of 100,000 people 90,000 of those have some physical complaint? Because I thought there were tens of thousands of people who just registered because they were in the Gulf?

A: No, just -- we think about 10 percent. And 100,000 is a low figure. It's over 100,000 now. About 10 percent had not actually taken physicals. Of those who took physicals, roughly 80 percent received a diagnosis. Roughly 20 percent had no diagnosis. Let me read you what it says: "Most veterans registered in evaluated the VA and DoD health programs receive a diagnosis but at least 20 percent have symptoms or signs that allude diagnosis."

And then they go on to say, "Based upon a sample, undiagnosed the signs and symptoms may be more common than appreciated based upon the" -- let me see -- again, it's not well written but their point is that you could have a diagnosis and also have symptoms and that's where they would say that a larger number of people have symptoms.

Q: Do you put much credence in the parasite the leishmaniasis? That's something that came up early and then sort of was dismissed. What's your standing?

A: Well, we know a lot about leishmaniasis and we're talking about something where very few people got it. I think the number is 30 with seven not being acute. Again, this is -- we're doing a background paper for my office on leishmaniasis but it is unlikely that this is going to be explained for a large number.

And again, this summer we're visiting Paris and Prague to better understand the Czech detections and the French experience. They're citing press reports.

Let me ask Gary to come up also and field some of these questions in terms of some of the --

Q: Can I just --

A: Sure.

Q: You say you're still in gathering stage. Do you have any sense when you'll wrap up your work?

A: We have two funnels of research. In the issue of what's causing illness we have commissioned a number of background papers. Our vehicle for doing this is the Rand Corporation which is one of the Department's federally-funded research and development centers. And Rand is doing it in -- with their in-house staff and with consultants. They need to go through a writing and then a peer review. That's scheduled to be completed in the Fall.

The other channel to complement what we know about low-level chem, for example, is what happened in the Gulf. And that's where we get the case narratives. We'll be talking about some of those case narratives to the PAC at their hearing next week. And we will be releasing a number as we go forward.

One of them, as mentioned here, is the Marine breaching operation. And so you'll be able to see in the Marine breaching what the statements were made by the folks who had an observation and what subsequent research, subsequent interviews with other people had to bring to bear on that and draw your own conclusions if we're beating anybody up or are we bringing all of the information systematically together.

So, that kind of -- that dual track will continue to go through the summer into the fall.

Q: To summarize what they've done here and where you may disagree with it -- you said that they've taken existing literature that you had available to you, that the PAC had available to them, they've read it and they've come to a different conclusion. Now, looking at how they did what they did you think they have come to a flawed conclusion because their methodology is wrong or --

Q: Too premature?

Q: Or what? Do they make a leap that you're not willing to make? What is the crux of the --

A: I'm not willing to take a position until I, through my agent -- in this case Rand -- has reviewed all of that. That means as I've stood here I'm not willing to say I sign up for everything the PAC said. And it says I'm not going to tell you I agree or I disagree with the GAO as it portends to a low-level chem.

I am concerned enough about the issue that my office, under my auspices, is doing an independent inquiry and I'm not prepared to provide a conclusion for things that I am still actively reviewing with the people who are doing this, and who I want to go through a peer review process to make sure that, when I commit myself and the Department, that I can stand behind it and it's just not a reaction to one government agency or another government agency.

Q: But that answer leads me to think, unless you want to add to it, that they've just done this work quicker and they've come to a -- some sort of conclusion that very may well be the conclusion that you come to at some point.

A: I don't know.

Q: But I don't think that's what you're really wanting to say.

A: I don't know that. I'm just simply saying that when I took on the assignment I said I would approach this with a blank piece of paper, with no preconceived notions. And although it's -- here we are in June -- I have to tell you I'm not ready to come forward and tell you where I think the weight of evidence comes down. That's why I've gone to people that I respect and we are plowing this ground again.

Q: Are you not saying then -- to Dana's question? You're not saying it's flawed or not flawed you're just saying you don't know?

A: That's exactly what I'm saying. I don't know.

Q: You think they reached a conclusion based on scanty evidence?

A: No, I didn't say that.

Q: (Inaudible) -- published the literature.

A: No, no, no, no, no -- let me -- okay. Let me back up.

It is generally understood in terms of low-level chem that there is very little scientific literature. That was true for the PAC. It's going to be true for the Rand inquiry. It's going to be true for the GAO. That has been the reason why we have put Defense dollars against increasing that base.

Now, I -- my reading of this is suggestive. They have not said -- unless I misread it -- that there is a definite link. I think what they have said is that they are concerned there may be a link, et cetera. And I can't -- I mean that's a speculative answer. And that's what I meant to say. But the comment on scantiness is a comment about the state of art of all of the research. And, at least the best I know, anybody who could say there is a definitive set of research that we absolutely know, I think would be misrepresenting.

Certainly, the PAC didn't say that. And I don't believe in my reading, now twice, of the GAO report that they were saying there is a definite link.

Q: They're saying that the Pentagon has put too much zeal into research on stress and not enough zeal into research on low-level chem and they quote three separate scientists who say they were turned down by the Pentagon early in the game when they wanted to take a look at low-level --

A: I'm sure that's correct. And you know, there is no question that in the past we put too little emphasis. You all have been clear in pointing out to us that we were slow in recognizing the possibility. We've talked about Khamisiyah being a watershed event. And this year, I think it is $10 million specifically ear-marked for low-level chem. So, again, there is plenty in the GAO report for us to agree with.

You have to put it in -- for example, there's a criticism that it took us three months to get monitoring equipment into the Gulf after the oil fires. Guilty as charged. But as a result, we have ten monitoring stations around Bosnia collecting hundreds of thousands of samples because we want to get ahead of the power curve.

Q: Have you found anything from the Bosnian --

Gary Christopherson: You gave me an easy access at that point. I think what we found there is that -- in the first place, in Bosnia, we did one of the most extensive monitoring we've ever done from an environmental perspective, looking at a wide range of things such as air, water, soil -- any kinds of things that could potentially hurt our troops in that respect, there.

What we found so far in Bosnia is essentially -- a lot of the sort of normal things you'll find in any kind of cold, physically uncomfortable kind of area there -- looking out, obviously, specifically, for things that would come out of the fact that is a different physical environment in terms of industrial backgrounds and this kind of thing there.

So far we are not seeing any major problems coming out of there, but we're going to have a lot of data there. Should something come up later in the game, we can go back and identify that.

The clear difference in what you're seeing right now in Bosnia compared to what we saw in Operation Desert Storm is, again, a very concrete effort early on, one, to know a little bit more about our troops as they go in, sort of pre-deployment. Secondly, is during deployment to be gathering in exposure kind of data of various kinds to be able to track it better so we can sort of relate it back to illnesses.

Secondly, as people leave the theater to go back and do follow-up kinds of evaluations to see whether or not there is anything coming up there that we do want to track somewhere down the road.

The concern that came out of the Gulf War, very honestly, was too much time passed by. I absolutely agree. It is a epidemiologist's nightmare to try to make the best of it from the data we've got available. The key right now is to do better than that, and at the same time go back because we still have a lot of questions to ask and answer about the Gulf War -- is to make the best answers we can.

I think what Bernie is going back to -- and some of the questions go back to, is there is a lot of gray. There are a lot of things you just don't have enough information to draw tight conclusions on. That will be the case, probably long, many, many years after this is all done. So what you are going to have now is judgment calls. And we are not quite ready to make ours yet, we're still looking.

Q: For the text, could you give us your name and title?

A: I'm sorry, its Gary Christopherson. And I'm the acting principal deputy assistant secretary of defense, Health Affairs.

Q: Do you feel that the GAO has made a conclusion too quickly based upon the amount of evidence which is out there, in trying to link chemical potential cause?

A: I think again, as Bernie alluded to, they are looking at the same information the rest of us are looking at there. We are not prepared to draw a firm conclusion. We don't think anybody probably can at this point in time. What you are still looking at is information coming in, research yet that is still to be done.

And, again, remember, you're dealing with something different when you're dealing with low-level chemicals than any of the sort of a kind of acute kind of exposures where you actually see somebody walks up, they get sick, they die, something happens physically there.

Here you're talking about something which is an unknown rate of exposure, an unknown connection between that exposure and illness, and not quite sure what the illness is you're looking for.

So, again, we still need some time. We're still looking not only for the answer to the Gulf War question, we're answering future kinds of wars and deployments, as well, where we have these same types of questions potentially coming up.

Q: Can you explain how we got behind the curve? I mean we were dealing with an enemy that was known to have chemical weapons. It was no secret. In 1990 we expected Iraq to use these things. They moved them forward. It's a question of whether they used them. But I mean all of a sudden you say, "Well, it got away from us." What happened here?

A: I think -- I'll give you the health perspective and Bernie can give you the other part. From a health perspective, what you traditionally are looking for -- and, again, the idea of low-level, sub-clinical kinds of exposures is not something you usually see much on the battlefield.

You used to on the battlefields see things that someone gets shot and you know what happens next. They're expose to nerve gas, you know what happens next. Those are the kinds of things you're expecting out there.

When those things did not occur the normal response was to say, "Okay, that probably means that nothing big happened." And if the acute didn't happen, then probably this other sub-clinical didn't happen. Well, we've gone back now and looked at it and said, "Okay." As Bernie alluded to, the research is somewhat thin. There is a potential in some areas to have a sub-clinical exposure over a period of time and "then have illness."

We're going back now to see whether or not there's any information either in the exposure side to say that (a) an exposure of that length could have occurred or not. And secondly, to try to fill in some of the research which is, again as Bernie indicated, is fairly thin. And none of us are ready to make a definitive conclusion on that until we get more information.

Q: Is it fair to say that the odds are that a veteran who is suffering what he thinks are a number of ailments from exposure to something in the Gulf, is going to spend the rest of his life without knowing what caused it? But on the other hand, the softener might be that the government whether you know or not will treat his illnesses?

Is that how it's most likely going to come down for most vets who think they have ailments stemming from Gulf War exposure?

Dr. Rostker: Again, I -- I mean I wouldn't disagree with you, but I wouldn't make that statement. I am optimistic that we will be able to find some better explanations. But certainly at this point the explanations have eluded us.

Let me try -- the question that you asked, what got away from us? I think that -- and you said it, we expected him to use chemical weapons in a concerted offensive operation. I think there is general agreement that we did not see that kind of concerted offensive use of chemical weapons ala World War I barrages and the like.

Where we were slow to react, I think, was to fully search down the potential possible causes of some of the more -- the undiagnosed, unexplained illnesses of the Gulf. And a number of hypothesis were raised that are difficult to deal with. For example, low-level chem and understanding the potential for those kinds of exposures.

And what we are engaged in is to search down, literally, every known potential exposure like Camp Monterey, which you got the report on. The PAC has placed a mark for us which we are working towards to explain every positive Fox reading and every positive 256 kit.

Now, those Fox readings are varied and across the board and there is no systematic pattern to it, but we need to understand each one for the potential of the exposure of the people who might have been around that vehicle or in that particular situation on that day in the Gulf War. So, we're very much trying to explain all of this.

That's a different question than asking the Defense Department, "Did Saddam Hussein use chemical weapons and were there mass casualties?" We're pretty confident about that answer. To be able to go further is what we have been asked to engage in and that's much more difficult.

Q: Is the public understanding of what happened in the Gulf well served by this GAO report or is the public simply more confused by it?

A: Yeah, and that's a good way to end. I think if the draft report, as it exists now, had been issued two years ago, the public would have been very well served because it points to a number of problems. But those problems have largely been identified and largely addressed.

I've got a standup organization looking at low-level chem exposures, looking at incidents, looking at the environment, doing the kinds of work that this report would call for. Gary, in Health Affairs, has research underway in low-level chem; an RFP out on patient reaction, patient treatment, again, as this report calls for.

The report makes reference to no biological detectors. As we've illustrated, we have biological detectors. So, in this point in time not being accurate and going again over old stuff, the report is not very helpful.

I think the story I'd like to see written is the substantial amount of work that we have undertaken in the last year, albeit the last year, and not rehash sins of the past.

Q: Well, you've admitted that you were slow to come to the realization that you needed to spend more time looking at low-level chemicals. Are you making the same mistake with biological in that the charge was --

A: No. I --

Q: -- failed to investigate something there wasn't much evidence of?

Mr. Christopherson: No, no. Let me do two points. Let me come back to your point a little bit here. One, is a lot of the early work -- and because that was where the early impressions were -- was to find the illness or the illnesses, a couple of them, that would explain away large amounts of the illness of our Gulf War veterans.

What I think we found is, and what sort of -- the Institute of Medicine and others on the Presidential Advisory Committee came to, is that there wasn't apparently any sort of large-scale kind of -- just didn't fit the pattern of the symptoms they were reporting, the diagnosis that were coming out of that. It just didn't seem to fit there.

The next question then turns to, okay, smaller numbers. That's where the leishmaniasis and things like that come into play saying, "Yes, there still could be things going on in there, but it may be much smaller numbers which requires somewhat, you know, it approaches, or looks at more smaller numbers of populations. And we are doing that in that respect, well.

Again, I think we have learned a lot from this whole enterprise here. We are changing what we're doing here on the biological area, as in the chemical area, partly because we have a future to worry about which we are very concerned about. We have to become prepared for that.

Partly it's for the Gulf War veterans, we owe them to do our best at least to try and answer their questions. And we are convinced as we, as the medics, the health people trying to do that.

We are going to look at some areas. We are planning some research in the biological kinds of areas to see if there's something that may pop out in there. Obviously, we're still looking back at any kind of data that may come out of Bernie's operation, may identify things that would sort of point us in a direction and say, "Here's a place to look" in terms of a particular kind of biological agent or a particular area of exposure.

You're trying to sort of find all these little pieces and find anyway you can put them together in the biological -- the same area. Can't afford to ignore it -- very critical for the future, very critical to figuring out for sure what happened in the past.

Q: Thank you

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