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Rostker Found No 'Smoking Gun' in Studying Gulf Maladies

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2001 – Bernard Rostker said he's studied Gulf War illnesses intensively since 1996 and knows veterans are sick, but he still doesn't know why.

"We know that there has been speculation on a number of causes," Rostker said Jan. 12 during his last Pentagon press briefing. "We have been able to rule out some of these causes, sometimes more definitively than others ... , but we certainly have not been able to make an association."

Rostker, undersecretary for personnel and readiness, has held a succession of increasingly senior DoD posts over the years. He also is the first and only person to date appointed as special assistant to the deputy secretary of defense for Gulf War illnesses, medical readiness and military deployments.

He said he believes the years of ruling out possibilities should provide some comfort to many veterans. "I can tell you from doing 30 town hall meetings that veterans have come up to me and said, 'Thank God somebody's listening. I had a concern, I didn't know, and now you've put my mind to rest by providing me with this information,'" Rostker said.

He said many people presume that if DoD can't explain why veterans are ill, those illnesses must have been caused by service in the Gulf. Rostker said he supports that presumption, but he's never found a "smoking gun."

"I can't manufacture answers," Rostker said. "I can only do the inquiries as best that we can and as objectively as we can. I think that is what we have done."

He also said Gulf War veterans report more symptoms than other veterans, but the incidence rates of more serious problems are no higher.

"Consistently, on objective standards of birth defects, of hospitalizations, of time lost on the job, we don't see a difference between the Gulf War population and the control populations," he said.

Still, DoD's highest priority must remain treating veterans who are ill, regardless of the reason, and to "continue to try to take the lessons of the Gulf and apply them to ongoing deployments," he said.

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