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Clinton Pledges Continued Care for Gulf War Vets

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 1997 – President Clinton pledged a "new benefits system" to aid the recovery of veterans suffering as yet unexplained Gulf War illnesses.

Responding to a special report on the ongoing government investigation of the illnesses, Clinton said the benefits will provide treatment and compensation for all Gulf War veterans suffering from the illnesses. The president also promised more money for research and new oversight of the government's investigation.

"We will ask the National Academy of Sciences to review ongoing scientific research regarding the connections between all reported illnesses and Gulf War service so we have the fullest understanding of the health consequences of that service," Clinton said in a Nov. 8 White House statement. "In addition, we will work with Congress on legislation to guarantee that this system of benefits is maintained in all administrations to come."

The president pledged $13.2 million for new research on the effects of low-level exposure to chemical warfare agents and other possible causes of the illness. He called on former U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire to lead a new oversight board to ensure DoD's investigation "meets the highest standards."

Finally, Clinton directed DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a force-protection health plan to give all service members a comprehensive, life-long medical record of all illnesses and injuries they suffer, the care and inoculations they receive and their exposure to different hazards. "These records will help us prevent illness and identify and cure those that occur," Clinton said.

His actions follow closely recommendations contained in the Oct. 31 special report issued by his advisory committee on Gulf War illnesses. Committee Chair Dr. Joyce Lashof said the government "must demonstrate through constructive public policy that it will do all it can for the men and women who served in the Gulf War."

The report severely criticizes DoD's investigative approach, which it concludes has betrayed the public trust. The report says the federal government "must reinforce and renew its commitment to Gulf War veterans in order to begin erasing the perception of governmental inattention to them."

Responding to the special report, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said he and Clinton have discussed the Pentagon's response to Gulf War illnesses on several occasions. "I have assured [the president] that the Department of Defense is committed to doing everything possible to explain and treat Gulf War illnesses and to improve health care for the men and women in the military," Cohen said.

"We will use the recommendations in the [presidential advisory committee] report, along with the guidance of Sen. Rudman and others on his board, to help direct our continuing investigation ... as well as our efforts to improve medical care," he said.

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