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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)
January 21, 1997 1:45 PM EDT
DoD News Briefing
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)

Tuesday, January 21, 1997 - 1:45 p.m.


Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses.

 

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I'd like to start by welcoming two of my colleagues in this august business, colleagues from the allied United Kingdom. First of all, Peter Bean, who has been the press spokesman for the British Embassy here for the last several years, and is returning to England to take up an important job in the Foreign Ministry there; and his replacement, Robert Chatterton-Dickson, who is also back there. Many of you who deal with the Embassy will be dealing with Robert. Welcome both of you.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: What about the report released today suggesting that perhaps some of the people who were close to the blast in Khamisiyah have some kind of muscular skeletal problems that might have been caused by the blast, and suggesting that perhaps...

A: Bernie Rostker will talk about that. Why don't we do that, and he can do the Persian Gulf stuff and then I'll come back up, or we can do it the other way. What do you want to do? Why don't we let Bernie do that.

Mr. Rostker: I've just seen the VA tables that were cited by Dr. Kizer, and there's no explanation in the text of those tables. But what I would note is the tables are quite inconsistent. The number that you were citing was from a table, Percent Distribution of Ten Most Frequent Complaints. It shows a larger incident of complaints from muscle and joint pain for those who were immediately around the site. I would remind you that it was the 82nd Airborne troops that were immediately around the site.

There are other tables in the VA handout. One is 'Percent Distribution by Select Diagnoses for Veterans', and it has categories of pain in joints and lower back pain, and that does not show that pattern. In fact in pain in joints, it shows a lower prevalence for those on-site than for the population as a whole or those around Khamisiyah or 50 kilometers.

Similarly, a table called 'Distribution by Selected Discharge Diagnoses' shows muscular skeleton on-site below that which was experienced within 50 kilometers around Khamisiyah or in the general population. So frankly, I don't know what to make of this.

I would also tell you that last week we sent out the initial 17,000 questionnaires for those around 50 kilometers of Khamisiyah, and we would expect to start getting some results back, and this would allow us to have a 100 percent sample. We're going to grow to the 22,000, but 17,000 went out last week.

Q: Statistically, is this significant at all?

A: I have no idea. That's why one would like to see narrative to explain the tables. The handout from the VA is just a series of five or six tables and categories of muscular skeleton are in different ways through it and inconsistent.

Q: Are such complaints common? Low level exposure to nerve agents? Joint pain...

A: We don't have a lot of experience with low level chemical exposures that we can document at this point. That's the purpose of the research that we will be generating. The only study we have done is in the 1970s -- the Duffy studies -- and there are a range of complaints. So I don't know how to answer that question.

Q: Do those complaints include muscle...

A: I honestly don't know. I'll have to review, and I can show you the notes on the study. I don't know the answer to that question.

Q: Do you consider the results of the study to be scientifically valid? Or is this more to do with polling? How do you characterize it?

A: I've got five tables without any documentation that report things that I'm confused as to what the differences in the different tables are. So this is not a study, it is five or six pages of tables with no explanation.

Q: When do you think you're going to know the health of most of the people in the CCEP, the Defense Department study?

A: I'm not sure I understand the question.

Q: The 38,000 in there, how many of them have the multiple symptoms?

A: About 82 percent have a diagnosis, but about half of those also carry a diagnosis of unknown cause. About 18 percent strictly carry a diagnosis of only unknown cause. That's the best data that I have.

Q: What is that, out of the 38, is that 22,000, 25,000?

A: We...

Q: I'm trying to get a figure of how many active duty people are ill because of the Persian Gulf, or attributed to the Persian Gulf.

A: About 15 percent have registered with either the Defense Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs. That number is almost identical to the decimal point between those who are within the 50-kilometer range of Khamisiyah and that in the general population. So at this point, about 15 percent have registered.

Q: Fifteen percent of 38,000?

A: No, 15 percent of the roughly 700,000 who served in the Gulf.

Q: So 15 percent of 700,000?

A: Have registered with the CCEP or the Veterans Registry. About ten percent of those just registered and never took a physical. It's slightly different between the VA and DoD, about 76 percent in the VA survey have a diagnosis. About 82 percent in the DoD survey have a diagnosis. Purely unexplained without any diagnosis, it's roughly 20 percent, give or take a few percentage points.

Q: But there's no such thing as a Persian Gulf Syndrome at the VA?

A: No.

Q: There's no diagnosis of these guys that have the multiple symptoms?

A: No, sir. There is an unknown category where we can't explain their symptoms. Then there are other categories where the doctors have been able to associate their symptoms with a known disease category, and therefore, give them a diagnosis. So we're talking roughly 20 percent of the population who have no diagnosis.

Q: Can you break out those, put it on a piece of paper so we have some solid numbers?

A: Sure, we can. We have published that before, but I'll make sure you get the latest information we have.

Q: ...fifteen percent of this, eight percent of that...

A: Sure. I'll give you a rundown.

Q: Sorry, you say 15 percent of some 700,000 served have registered. Can you break that down between how many are still active and how many are veterans?

A: I can break that down between how many have registered through the Department of Defense and how many have registered through the VA. But remember, this registry has occurred over time. At this point I don't know how many are still on active duty. We'll see if we can get that number for you.

Q: Some that may have registered with DoD may now be veterans.

A: Of course. Some may have separated and the like. If it's not a career separation, then they would not still be in our medical system.

Q: Are you also going to provide us with a map showing where there have been confirmed detections of chemical munitions?

A: Sure. We're releasing a list of the events. The maps should be time specific. I don't know of any hypothesis that would be useful in terms of an overall map covering the months and months that we were in the Gulf. So you need to do it by day. We'll look towards providing you with those maps.

Q: ...showed where they had not only Khamisiyah but the 256 kits and the Fox vehicle detections?

A: Yes, sir. And we're going back through our data to make sure that that list is consistent with our best information. That was the list of 40 some-odd incidents we were carrying, but I want to make sure that that covers all of the potential incidents. We really need to analyze those incidents in terms of time and space. And units. So, for example, there will be several incidents that occurred during the Marine breaching operation, and we need to understand what went on in that total operation to give the best picture.

Q: When are we going to get that?

A: We're producing now, and I hope to have to you in a few weeks, a series of case narratives which will present to you and to the American people what we know about Khamisiyah, the Marine breaching operation, Al Jubayl, and it would incorporate all of that. My staff is busy working on that now and we want to do that with a full documentation so you can say why do you make this statement? And we can go back and say we make it because here's the record that we find. We're not there yet. I hope to have the first of those narratives out in a few weeks.

Q: The Army Inspector General's report?

A: I talked to them about [it] the week before last. They've accomplished over 100 interviews. They have about 50 to go. They're projecting that they will be finished by mid-March.

Press: Thank you.

Mr. Bacon: Do you have questions on other topics?

Q: After the confirmation hearing tomorrow, once the Senator is confirmed, will he have any priority of issues he wants to deal with right away? Is he going to go tour around, or is he going to do paperwork? What are some of his most immediate agenda items?

A: First of all, the budget will come out in early February and he'll have to prepare for presenting the budget to Congress and to the press so he'll be working on the budget. There are a number of decisions that have to be made. He'll get himself into the QDR, obviously, right away, as soon as possible to come up to speed on that and to follow it closely, because that will be an important baseline event for him as Secretary. There will be, right away, some decisions he'll have to focus on involving personnel, people who are leaving, so he'll have to start paying some attention to that. He'll clearly have to get involved in decision-making involving our deployment in Bosnia, troop rotations, when those rotations will be, who will rotate, et cetera. So I think there will be a number of issues for him to deal with right here.

I also think that as soon as he can he'll get out and visit some troops. I don't know when he plans to do that. He might not be able to do that until after the initial budget testimony, but that's high up on his list as well.

Q: What type of decisions on troop movements in and out of Bosnia?

A: Well, the issue is when are the troops there coming out, when are they rotating out, and who's going to replace them? Those are basically two questions that have to be resolved.

Q: What has happened with the (inaudible) panel?

A: The National Defense Panel? That's another issue he may have to deal with. We've been in lengthy conversations with Congress about the composition of that panel. So far, there isn't a clear agreement, I think, within Congress on who should be on that panel, and between Congress and the Defense Department about the composition of that panel. What the law says is that we should consult with Congress, and we've been consulting with Congress, but so far we haven't reached firm decisions.

Q: But that's an issue that Secretary Perry has to leave with Secretary Cohen?

A: If it's not resolved by Thursday or Friday, yes, that would be left to Secretary Cohen. We believe that Senator Cohen should become Secretary Cohen on Thursday or Friday. The Senate is hoping to be able to confirm him on Thursday.

Q: This National Defense Panel is supposed to consult with the Pentagon throughout this QDR process. Considering it's not in place yet, is it holding up the process at all?

A: No. The process is going forward. As you were briefed, I think, in December, a number of panels have been set up and they're doing their work. The NDP, the National Defense Panel, will follow that work very closely when it's appointed. I think they'll be able to catch up pretty rapidly on what's being done, what has been done. They'll have plenty of time to be involved in the consultations.

Q: Have there been requests from overseas MODs to have the Secretary visit them early on? What...

A: There have been a series of requests, and I don't know them in detail but there have been a series of requests and invitations which he has not acted on finally, but will when he becomes Secretary. He'll have to sit down and make out a schedule of people coming here to visit him, as well as people he'll visit and when.

Q: Will Dr. Perry deal with the Air Force's Khobar Towers bombing report, the Record Report, or will he leave that for Senator Cohen?

A: My guess is the review will not be completed by the time Dr. Perry leaves. I'm quite sure that will be the case. I could be surprised, but I'm quite sure that is something else that Secretary Cohen will have to deal with.

Q: This is a DoD review of the Air Force review?

A: Well, the Secretary asked the Air Force to review. When that happens, generally the study produced by the Service is then reviewed by people in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. We're in the process now of discussing with the Air Force that study. Reviewing the Air Force's work.

Q: Is the budget still planned for release on the 5th, here for us?

A: Yeah. I think it's supposed to go to Congress on the 6th of February, so we would have a background briefing here, the standard background briefing, on the 5th, which is a Wednesday. Now that decision is ultimately made by the White House, but I think that's what they're planning to do. That's what Mike McCurry's been talking about. The 6th.

Anything else?

The Press: Thank you.