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Pentagon Launches New Studies Into Gulf War Illnesses

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 1996 – The Defense Department announced Dec. 10 it is soliciting private studies on the effects of lowlevel exposure by humans to nerve agents.

Officials believe up to 20,000 Americans may have been exposed to fallout from Iraqi chemical weapons U.S. soldiers destroyed in March 1991. The Pentagon learned only this May of the presence of chemical weapons at Khamisiyah, Iraq. The information surfaced in reports from the United Nations Special Commission investigating causes of illnesses reported by Persian Gulf War veterans.

"We're soliciting proposals ... for epidemiological studies in human subjects, including those we think were at or near Khamisiyah at the time," DoD spokesman Kenneth Bacon said. "We've also asked for proposals on animal studies. Both of these [will focus] on the impact of low level exposure."

The Pentagon announced June 21 U.S. troops had blown up ammunition bunkers at Khamisiyah. After learning of the presence of chemical munitions in the Iraqi bunkers, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Stephen Joseph ordered reviews of earlier research. As a result of findings by the Armed Forces Epidemiology Board and the National Academy of Science, Bacon said, DoD decided to initiate new studies.

The department has allotted $15 million to the new studies, Bacon said. Some of the studies will use laboratory animals, while others will involve actual gulf war veterans and control groups of veterans who did not serve in the war. The studies will look not only at low-level chemical exposure but the effects of pesticides used in the gulf and other general effects.

Bernard Rostker, DoD special assistant for gulf war illnesses, said the department has three priorities in investigating. "The first and most important [priority] is to make sure that anybody who is sick is getting treatment," Rostker said. "We want to make this as easy for them as possible, to make sure that they have no long term health consequences."

Second, Rostker said, DoD wants "to get at the bottom of the cause. We talk about gulf war illness because right now we can't find a consistent pattern, but we are looking. We've increased the resources ... and we owe it not only to the veterans -- those who served in the gulf -- but to future generations of soldiers and Marines and sailors and airmen so that we can remove any possible factor that could lead to illness."

Finally, DoD needs to "make sure that we have the right doctrine and...the right systems" to foster a healthier deployment environment," Rostker said.

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