Committee Presents Gulf Illness Report
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 1997 President Clinton extended the life of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses for nine months to act as an independent check on DoD's investigation.
He also accepted a Department of Veterans Affairs proposal to reconsider a regulation that Gulf War veterans with undiagnosed illnesses must prove their disabilities emerged within two years of their service in the Persian Gulf region to receive benefits.
Clinton said while much has been done, much remains to do. "I'm determined that this investigation will be comprehensive and credible," he said. "We haven't ended the suffering, we don't have all the answers, but I won't be satisfied until we have done everything humanly possible to find them."
Dr. Joyce Lashof, chair of the committee, presented the report to Clinton Jan. 7. Lashof said overall the government has responded with a comprehensive series of measures to resolve questions about Persian Gulf War veterans' illnesses. "Unfortunately, the positive nature of these efforts has been diminished by how the Department of Defense approached the possibility that U.S. troops had been exposed to chemical weapons," she said.
Lashof said DoD must now move quickly to resolve questions about U.S. service members' exposure to chemical warfare agents. "Our investigation of DoD's efforts related to chemical and biological weapons led us to conclude the department's early efforts were superficial and lacked credibility," Lashof said.
She said DoD originally did not adequately fund research into the long-term effects of exposure to low levels of chemical agents -- a situation now corrected.
The report recommends first that the government continue to provide excellent health care to affected veterans. Second, the government must continue to find out what made the veterans sick. "Based on existing scientific data, none of the individual environmental Gulf War risk factors commonly suspected appears to be the cause," Lashof said.
In addition, the committee recommended research in three areas. The first is long-term health effects of low-level exposure to chemical agents. The committee also wants to look at what effect, if any, the "investigational" drug pyridostigmine bromide -- used to combat the effects of nerve agents -- had in combination with other Gulf War risk factors. Finally, the committee suggested examining the physical response to stress.
At a Pentagon press conference, Deputy Defense Secretary John P. White said he welcomed the committee's report and said the committee has played "a useful and important role in our efforts." He said DoD takes the issue very seriously, believing at bottom it is a force protection matter. "It goes to the heart of our commitment and responsibility to the brave men and women who risk their lives for our country," White said.