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Gulf War Illness Investigator Maps Future Efforts

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 1998 – Did Iraq actually use biological warfare agents during the Persian Gulf War? The DoD special assistant for Gulf War illnesses will try to find that out this year.

The Pentagon's chief investigator for Gulf War illnesses said his office will continue in 1998 building on the progress made in 1997 to discover what made thousands of U.S. service members sick.

Bernard Rostker announced the plans Jan. 8 at a Pentagon press conference, during which he also handed out his first annual report. The report covers lessons learned as well as plans, which include expanding DoD's outreach effort to all active duty and reserve components of the armed forces.

"This has truly been a governmentwide effort," Rostker said in a summary of last year's investigative actions contained in the report. "We have all adhered to the president's challenge to 'leave no stone unturned,' not just because he told us to, but because we are all dedicated to do whatever it takes to support those that served so bravely during the Gulf War."

Chief among last year's actions was an investigation of demolition of Iraqi chemical weapons at a storage bunker in Khamisiyah, Iraq, shortly after the war ended in 1991.

"You could call last year the 'Year of the Chemical Incident,'" Rostker said at the news conference. "This next year we will look into other areas: depleted uranium, oil fire particulates, pesticides, immunizations, pyridostigmine bromide and so on."

Rostker's team investigated other suspected chemical agent exposure cases as well. All findings were published in case narratives posted to the office's Internet web site (www.gulflink.osd.mil).

In 1998, DoD will launch an inquiry into the possibility Iraq actually used biological warfare agents during the war. The office also will publish 12 additional chemical case narratives and three more information papers. These reports will identify likely exposure scenarios -- Army investigators will attempt to estimate the possible dose rate for each, while RAND Corp. reviews what medical science says about the danger from these exposures.

RAND also will publish eight medical reviews and two papers on management of the DoD medical program. Several ongoing medical research projects also will yield some findings this year.

Rostker brought Army VII Corps operations officers together last year to discuss their units' Desert Storm activities, and he plans to host XVIII Airborne Corps officers this year. The meetings are designed to elicit as many facts as possible from officers with the most firsthand knowledge of ground operations during the war. Information about the location of Air Force personnel will be incorporated into these findings. Combined, these reports will help determine the number of U.S. service members exposed to low levels of chemical agents at Khamisiyah.

The complete annual report is available on the GulfLink web site that also contains an new section of frequently asked questions (www.gulflink.osd.mil/faq.html).

The 1998 plan isn't a final product, Rostker noted. "If our first year is any guide, additional reviews will come up during the year that cannot now be anticipated," he said.

A DoD spokesman said Rostker's office will continue to accept calls at (800) 472-6719 from people with specific information about possible chemical agent events during the war.

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