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Clinton, Cohen Address Gulf War Illness Issues

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 12, 1997 – President Clinton has ordered federal agencies to take three new actions in their investigation of Gulf War Illnesses.

"Two months ago, when I accepted the final report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses, I pledged to the committee and to all America's veterans that we would match their efforts with action," Clinton said during a White House press conference March 7. "Today, I am announcing three important steps to meet that pledge and our debt to our veterans."

First, the president approved new regulations extending the eligibility period for compensating Gulf War veterans with undiagnosed illnesses to 2001, which is 10 years after the conflict ended. Current regulations require veterans with undiagnosed illnesses to prove their disabilities emerged within two years of their return from the gulf to be eligible for benefits.

"Experience has shown that many disabled veterans have had their claims denied because they fall outside that two-year time frame," Clinton said. "Gulf War veterans who became ill as a result of their service should receive the compensation they deserve, even if science cannot yet pinpoint the cause of their illnesses."

The president also said he accepts the plan to implement recommendations made in the advisory committee's final report. The plan addresses outreach, medical and clinical issues, research and investigations into the possible effects of chemical and biological weapons. DoD and Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs departments will carry out the actions.

Finally, Clinton initiated a presidential review "to make sure that in any future troop deployments we act on lessons learned in the gulf to better protect the health of our service men and women and their families."

Clinton said as new information surfaces about the illnesses and possible causes, investigators must answer two questions:

"First, should [the new information] change the research of health care programs we have in place to care for our veterans; and second, how will it help us to make the policy changes we need to better protect our forces in future deployments?

"What is most important is that we remain relentless in our search for the facts; and that as we do get new information, we share it with our veterans, with Congress and with the American people; and that we act on any information we uncover.

"That is what we have done and what we must continue to do," the president said. "I will not stop until we have done everything we can to provide the care and to find the answers for Gulf War veterans that they need and deserve."

Secretary of Defense William Cohen told NBC News' Tim Russert DoD has increased almost tenfold the number of people involved in the investigation.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Cohen said on the network's "Meet the Press" March 9. "We're conducting some 80 separate research programs right now to try to determine what was the cause of the various types of illnesses that have been reflected by the various soldiers who served there.

"We will conduct a very thorough investigation, and I believe that the American people will be satisfied," Cohen said.

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