Tuesday, December 10, 1996 - 1:00 p.m.
(Also participating in this briefing is Dr. Bernard Rostker, Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Persian Gulf Illnesses.)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
It's a bright Tuesday. We're all happy to be here, and I'm happy to take your questions. I have no announcements.
Q: Is the Defense Secretary going to travel around the country with General Chi?
A: No, he has no plans to do that. The Minister will travel starting tomorrow, not with the Defense Secretary.
Q: Are you going to give us a schedule of the bases he's going to visit or the times he's going to be there, the days he's going to be there?
A: I have a schedule which I can give you, yes. It doesn't give times. It just tells you where he's going and what days.
Q: Can I do a followup on that? Maybe someone did it yesterday, but can we have a pretty good dump on what transpired at the talks, what subjects came up?
A: A Senior Defense Official gave a briefing yesterday, and we'll give you a copy of the transcript. There have not been... As you know, he's finished his meetings, his formal meetings with the Defense Department. He'll have a chance to talk with Dr. Perry tonight at a dinner the Chinese are giving at the Chinese Embassy. I expect they'll have some time for private conversation there, to finish up on any issues that were unresolved earlier. He met with members of Congress this morning. He's giving a speech at 2:15, I believe, this afternoon, that will be piped back here from the National Defense University. There will be Q&A after that.
It's interesting that, at that speech, a number of former Secretaries of Defense have been invited to the luncheon at the NDU. As you know, our relations with China have gone on for about two decades, and many Secretaries of Defense have participated in that. Harold Brown's been to China, I know, when he was Secretary of Defense. I think Secretary Weinberger went, but I'm not certain on that. There have been a number of Secretaries who have been there.
Q: I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but when you say they will resolve any issues tonight, does that...
A: I don't believe that's what I said. I don't believe I said resolve issues. I said I believe it will give them a chance to discuss any issues that may need further discussion.
Q: Will they have enough time over dinner to do that?
A: Yesterday the Secretary met privately with Minister Chi, actually, for two 45-minute sessions -- one right after he arrived here and before he went to the White House, and then another 45-minute session after he came back from the White House. Then there was a plenary session after that that went on for over an hour. So they've had extensive conversations, including the conversations that Minister Chi had with Samuel Berger, who's been named the new National Security Adviser, and also with President Clinton. So there has been ample time to talk. The theme of all of those conversations was that both the U.S. and China agree that we have a strategic interest in building a better relationship for the 21st Century.
Specifically what came out of those talks at the Pentagon was a Chinese agreement to what we call confidence-building measures. These are measures to improve working relationships between our militaries and to build trust between our countries. The two we focused on yesterday were the U.S. ship visits to Hong Kong, which the Chinese have agreed to in principle, which means essentially that they've agreed to accept those, to allow U.S. ship visits to continue. We haven't worked out the exact details as to timing yet and frequency.
They also accepted a draft of a military maritime agreement and they will review that draft and we anticipate beginning discussions with them over that draft which we believe, and they have led us to expect, will eventually produce the implementation of that agreement, but that hasn't been done yet. We're going to discuss that agreement, and work toward reaching one as soon as possible.
We also talked about exchanges of ship visits between U.S. and Chinese ships. It turns out that next year in March a Chinese ship will visit Honolulu, but also will visit the West Coast, and I believe it's the first time that a Chinese combatant ship has visited the West Coast of the United States. So this will be a new step forward in port visits. We will then reciprocate with port visits to China.
So there are a number of steps that have been taken here, and we anticipate that more will be taken in the future to build confidence between the two military organizations.
I want to stress one thing, that everything to come out of these talks will be for the mutual benefit of each country. This is a pragmatic arrangement between China and the United States, and we move forward only on measures that improve our security and they move forward with measures that they think advance their national interests as well, so that's what we're working toward.
Q: How about Taiwan and the issue of human rights? That all came up yesterday.
A: Yes, it did. It came up yesterday. The President mentioned the issue of human rights, and the issue of Taiwan came up several times as well.
Q: Has the issue of Tiananmen come up, with regard to General Chi? Has he been asked about his...
A: The issue certainly has come up in the press. He was the, I believe, the head of the General Staff at that time, but it did not come up specifically in the meetings that I attended.
Q: So it hasn't been asked of the Defense Minister whether he had, what his involvement was, or how he feels about it now?
A: I think the United States Government made very clear its condemnation of the events in Tiananmen Square when they happened in 1989. We have made them clear many times since. I don't think there's any doubt how we feel about that abridgement of rights.
Q: But specifically with regard to this General who was in the chain of command, at least have we made it clear to him our criticism of those actions?
A: He understands very well what the government view is on that. It was made clear by President Bush and it's been made clear since.
Q: There's a report in the New York Times that Dr. Lederberg, on the 1994 panel, feels that he wasn't given adequate information. Was there information available on Khamisiyah at the time that his panel should have been given and it wasn't?
A: I think that's not the right way to approach the question. In starting here, let me divide time, starting with June 21, 1996. That was the day that we announced that U.S. troops had blown up ammunition bunkers at Khamisiyah that we subsequently learned, after the explosions took place, contained chemical weapons. We did not know that in 1994. We did not conclude that chemical weapons were being stored in Khamisiyah until 1996, specifically in May of '96, I believe. After we concluded that, based on information we got from UNSCOM, the UN Special Commission, we announced that there was a possibility of low level exposure to chemicals by American troops. We did not know that in 1994. Had we known, it, we certainly would have shared that information with Dr. Lederberg and his panel.
So there was absolutely no effort to withhold information. As Dr. Lederberg said himself, the government is a complex organization and it took us awhile to piece together what had happened in Khamisiyah.
Since we announced that in June, we have not only said that there's the possibility of low level chemical exposure, or that we have to be alert to the possibility of low level chemical exposure, we have launched a program to learn more about Khamisiyah and we've launched a series of research studies, or are in the process of launching a series of medical research studies to go back and look at the impact of exposure to low level chemical concentrations.
So I think that it's very clear that we did not withhold information from him. We got subsequent information after he completed his study.
Let me just continue on one other part. One of the things that happened after June of 1996 was that the Health Affairs Division of the Pentagon, run by Dr. Stephen Joseph, Dr. Joseph realized that Khamisiyah raised new facts that we didn't have before, and therefore, imposed on him a responsibility to go back and look at earlier research through a new lens. That lens was were U.S. troops exposed to chemicals at Khamisiyah in whatever levels?
We've had no contemporaneous evidence, that is no symptoms of soldiers there at the time of exposure. But the question is, and we had no conclusive chemical alarms at the time suggesting that there was exposure. But the question is, should we go back and relook at all the evidence.
So he initiated a series of reviews. He asked, first of all, a member of the Persian Gulf investigative team, Colonel [Edward] Elson, to go back and review all the literature, medical literature, on the impact of possible low level exposure. Colonel Elson did that. He also asked a group called the Armed Forces Epidemiology Board to do the same thing. This is a board of private physicians and researchers outside of the government who review questions given them by the government. They also went back and reviewed the literature.
They reached contradictory conclusions, in one respect. Colonel Elson believed, based on all the literature he reviewed, that it would not be worthwhile to have new research into the impact on humans of low level chemical exposure. The Armed Forces Epidemiology Board reached the opposite conclusion. It decided that based on its review of basically the same body of literature, that it was worthwhile to have more studies on the impact of low level exposure on humans.
There were also two other reviews that made the same conclusion. One was by the National Academy of Science; and the other was by the Institute of Medicine, which is a subsidiary of the National Academy of Science.
Based on these reviews, we have decided to go back and initiate new studies. Just today, a proposal has been sent out for research projects looking at... We're soliciting proposals to one, look for epidemiological studies in human subjects, including those we think were at or near Khamisiyah at the time; and we've also asked for proposals on animal studies. Both of these focusing on the impact of low level exposure.
So we are moving forward.
Just let me finish one comment here. The New York Times article very unfortunately, missed this important point by focusing only on Colonel Elson's study, which is the one that, Colonel Elson's review of the literature reached the conclusion that there was no further research necessary. As I said, there was also the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board Study, there was the National Academy of Sciences Review, and the Institute of Medicine Review, which reached a different conclusion. And as you know from listening to me and Dr. Joseph and Dr. Rostker talk about this from time to time, we now have $15 million which we plan to spend on studying the impact of possible low level exposure to chemical agents such as sarin nerve gas. So we are proceeding forward on that.
And interestingly, I suspect that these studies will go back and review the work of Drs. Duffy, Birchfield, and others who claim that we have rejected or overlooked their work. We have not at all rejected or overlooked their work, which was financed by the Army.
Q: When was the decision made to initiate these new studies?
A: The decision was made actually months ago. We announced back in September, I believe, that we were going to increase spending on research into the impact of possible low level exposure. It's just been a question of drawing up the solicitations, the requests for proposal, etc. That's what's being done now.
Q: How did that go out? Who was it sent to?
Q: Is that a vehicle of Commerce Business Daily or something?
A: Yes, it's been published in Commerce Business Daily already.
Q: By the Army or...
A: I believe it was published today in Commerce Business Daily. I can give you a copy of it here if you want.
Q: Is that a DoD or Army request?
A: I believe this is an Army request.
Q: This is soliciting, I take it, private studies, not Defense Department studies.
A: Yeah. Soliciting people to come forward with proposals for studies, and then we'll decide which proposals make sense and which ones we want to fund.
Q: You've said in the past that very little is known about low level exposure to sarin, is that not right? About the effects of low level exposure?
A: There isn't too much known. I would be glad to make available to you these reviews which are public, and some of the material has appeared on the Internet, and in fact has been on the Internet for some time. But there has not been huge amounts of research done, but there have been projects. I think in one of these, there's 28 footnotes cited of studies and research that were reviewed; but the conclusion that we have reached is that, in light of what happened in Khamisiyah, we have to be open to new possibilities, and that's why we're spending $15 million to look at the impact of low level exposure.
Q: Why did the Colonel reach the conclusion that new studies weren't warranted? What was his reasoning?
A: You can read the study for yourself. I would be glad to give it to you. I don't want to focus single-mindedly on that because other studies reached exactly the opposite conclusion. Let me just give you examples.
The Colonel's study said here that after reviewing... Now this is, I suppose, what you would call a type of meta-analysis which is to go back and review a whole body of research, read the studies and see what sort of trends you can deduce from looking at all the studies. A simpler term would be a literature review. The Colonel concluded that there is no credible evidence for chronic illnesses caused by exposure to organophosphate nerve agents -- sarin is part of that -- at concentrations too low to produce signs or symptoms of acute poisoning, and that such a process cannot be reasonably advanced as having a role in Gulf War illnesses. That's what he concluded.
He said, "While further research on animals might contribute some information to the general database on toxicity, it is unlikely in the extreme that such research would enhance our understanding of Gulf War illnesses." That's what the Colonel concluded.
However, the Armed Forces Epidemiology Board reached a different conclusion, and it said, "There remains some question as to the validity of concerns regarding changes in EEG," basically measurements of brain activity, "patterns, long after GB or sarin exposure. Also, it is unclear what such changes really mean regarding the function of a soldier if those long term EEG changes actually occur. It is prudent to suggest that further research into the long term effects of low dosage GB exposure be undertaken."
So there is a different conclusion. As I said, the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences also recommended further research and that, in fact, is what we're doing.
The point here, I think, and this is the point I made last time I talked about this. This is a medical mystery. We are not deterred or discouraged by the medical mystery because we're providing care as best we can to the people who are suffering from whatever happened to them during the Gulf War. Those who have left the service and qualify for disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs are getting disability payments. Twenty-six thousand people who fought in the Gulf War are receiving disability payments. We can't connect all of those with service in the Gulf, but 26,000 people who served in the Gulf are currently receiving disability payments. Active duty soldiers who fought in the Gulf and have health problems, wherever they come from, are cared for by the military medical system, given the best care we know how to give them.
Q: Can we get clarification on the studies that are solicited today? Is that the first of many you're going to ask for, or is that it? Could the newsroom have a copy of the Commerce Business Daily solicitation so we can see the deadlines and so forth?
A: Yeah, we'll give you a copy of this. It's no problem.
We estimate that these studies will probably cost about $2.5 million, and we have a total of about $15 million that we plan to spend on research.
Q: So today marks the start of solicitations. It's not the one and only...
A: Previous research has been done on this. As I said, there were Army-funded studies back in the '70s that...
Q: . ..is what I'm trying to get in context...
A: Yes. We will give you a copy of this.
Q: That's going to be a continuing solicitation, not just today.
A: Right. There is now a board, sort of a medical review board, trying to decide where we should target the money and what sort of studies we should design.
Q: I take it that these studies will differ from the previous Gulf War studies that you've done in that these will not just be studying the people involved in the Gulf War or animals in the region, but the general effects of low levels of sarin, and then trying to find if, in fact, these people who were in the area, displayed the effects. Is that not right?
A: There will be a galaxy of studies, and we will look at a wide variety of questions.
Q: This will not just involve troops that were there. This will involve the general effects of...
A: Some of the studies will involve the general effects. Obviously, studies on animals don't affect, we're not studying animals that were at Khamisiyah. One of these studies is an epidemiological study of troops who were in the Khamisiyah area, so they will, presumably, be compared to a control group of soldiers who were not in the Khamisiyah area, or soldiers who weren't in the Gulf at all. I suspect there will be several control groups, but all of this will come out in the design of the studies.
There will be other studies that will be on the general response to low level exposure. Many of those, of course, will involve animals. I'm sure that we will continue to go back and review earlier studies that have been done. Organophosphates are used in many pesticides. In fact, they were used in pesticides used in the Gulf, and that's one of the things we've been looking at. There's actually a fairly extensive literature on the exposure to pesticides -- not necessarily on the exposure to nerve gas. But that's the type of thing we're looking at. Quite broad.
Q: I asked this question a couple of months ago, and I think it was left a little bit in limbo. But is there any desire on anybody's part to go back and talk to residents in Germany and Poland around the death camps where sarin was used? Because there must have been exposures to low levels of sarin at that time, and some of those people will still be alive.
The second thing is, going back to General Chi for a minute. One, did he know George Bush when Bush was Ambassador to China? And is he meeting with Bush while he's on his visit here? And last, does he speak English?
A: Following the Warren Christopher rule, I can answer any one of those three questions. The easiest one to answer is no, he does not speak English.
I don't know whether... I doubt if he's seeing George Bush. At one point we had intended to ask President Bush to the dinner with Minister Chi on Sunday. I assume he was asked and I assume he had a scheduling conflict. But I don't know whether or not Minister Chi knew George Bush when he was... He was actually not the Ambassador to China, because I think it was before we recognized China. He was our emissary to China.
Q: What about the studies of sarin around the death camps?
A: I don't know about that. That may be something... I just see that Bernie Rostker has arrived and he may be able to answer that question.
Q: Why was Congressman Bob Dornan, who was defeated, given a joy ride in a F/A-18 fighter jet yesterday?
A: There are so many land mines in that question... (Laughter)
I'd like to start by saying that I don't accept the term "joy ride". Secondly, Mr. Dornan is still a member of Congress. He's still a member of the House National Security Committee. He is a Chairman of the Personnel Subcommittee of that committee. So I assume that, as a sitting Congressman, still he has a right to review military readiness. Beyond that, please ask the Marines or the Navy.
Q: But isn't it a waste of taxpayers' money?
A: I don't think that educating congressmen about the readiness of the military is ever a waste of money.
Q: Go back to the Chinese visit. The Chinese Embassy, when the press section there, Ken, when queried, said it was the United States that had set up this trip, had decided what the press availability would be to Minister Chi, and I understand we've had four questions from the general world press that have been allowed to be asked, and I understand there will be no other questions asked on this entire trip. Is it the Chinese that requested this low availability to the press, or was it us? Or do we agree with that?
A: As you know, when Ministers come here, the typical pattern is to have photo opportunities and the press gets to ask several questions. Because of the large Chinese press corps here in Washington, I think there are 30 representatives of the Chinese press here, and who attended yesterday, we thought it was only fair to divide half and half between U.S. and Chinese. It was cold out there. The ceremony with translation took over half an hour which is about double or triple the amount of time we devote to a standard photo opportunity. Given all those circumstances, it seemed reasonable.
I might also point out, though, that today at the National Defense University, Minister Chi is giving a speech from which afterwards there will be questions from the audience on that.
Q: But not from the press, I understand.
A: I assume that people in the audience can ask whatever they want to ask, just as you could ask whatever you wanted to ask or the press could ask whatever they wanted to ask yesterday.
Q: We were told that only students of the Defense University would be allowed to ask questions.
A: No, I said I assume members of the audience can ask whatever they want today, just as members of the press could ask whatever they wanted to yesterday, and did.
Q: Maybe to follow up on his question, you said it was cold out there. Why wasn't a press conference arranged in here with the visiting Defense Minster of one of the most powerful countries on earth? Was it the Pentagon deciding not to do it?
A: It's the same model we used when Prime Minister Netanyahu came. We've done it with others. It just seemed to be the fastest way to do it. Diverting into here to a press conference would have taken much more time. We just did it that way. It was fast. I thought it was efficient. And except for the helicopters flying over, it worked pretty well.
Q: How come we had that interference where we couldn't hear answers?
A: From the helicopters?
A: That's why your crack Pentagon press office presented you a transcript within minutes of the event so you could pick up on any...
Q: An unrelated question. If it's too far down in the weeds, you can refer me to one of your deputies who I think has worked on it. But you put out a release yesterday that said that 1996 was the safest year ever, and that, of course, has to be an overstatement because, when the Pentagon was real small, it would have to be safer. An all-time low of aircraft lost, that would have to be an overstatement because you lost 67. There was a time when we hardly had 67. I only ask this in case you've been briefed on this safety thing.
A: On that particular point, I think you're confusing a number with a rate.
Q: No. No, it says, I don't want to belabor it, but the number of aircraft lost to accidents -- crashed, burned, no more -- reached an all time low of 67. That can't be. There was a time when we hardly had 67.
A: When was there ever a time when we had...
Q: When we first had the Army Air Corps...
A: If you want to take the historians' approach here and go back before the Wright brothers and ask me questions about that period, it would be difficult to answer.
Why don't you talk, as you said, to somebody on my staff who's looking at this. I did read the release, but I didn't go back to before the Army Air Corps and ask that question. I assume it refers to the time when the Pentagon started, and I assume that in 1947 we had many more aircraft than we had today. It was right after World War II. We probably had many, many more aircraft than we have today.
Q: They said it was the safest year since then, but we'll find out.
Q: Yesterday Senator Cohen was over here. I'm wondering what you can say about the transition process, what's going on behind the scenes, what sort of leeway Senator Cohen has in selections and when the Secretary plans on stepping down.
A: We announced previously that Secretary Perry had asked Deputy Secretary White to run the transition process. Senator Cohen has asked Deputy Secretary White to run the transition process on the other side, that is after Senator Cohen comes, if he is confirmed, after he comes here, he has asked Secretary White to stay on for awhile and manage the transition after he gets here. So Secretary White will provide continuity between the two Secretaries.
Yesterday was the first formal meeting between Secretary Perry and Senator Cohen after the President designated Senator Cohen to be Defense Secretary, and we will start now a process of briefing him, the building will, with two ends. One, of course, is to prepare him for his confirmation hearings; and two, just to bring him up to date on the latest operations, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and a whole series of other issues that he wants to educate himself about further. He's followed many of these issues as a Senator and as a member of the Armed Services Committee, but will have a chance to be more detailed. Beyond that, I can't give you any specific schedules for briefings, but they will be occurring.
Q: You said that Senator Cohen has asked Dr. White to stay on at the beginning of his term. Does that mean that Dr. White would eventually be leaving?
A: I don't mean to suggest that at all. All I mean to say is that he's asked him to stay into his tenure if he's confirmed, and we assume he will be, and that will have to be worked out later. I don't know, I think it would be premature to talk about future plans. That doesn't mean he won't stay. I think it just needs to be decided.
Q: Any word on the future of the premier Pentagon spokesperson, or...
A: I think sometimes topics that important shouldn't be discussed in public. (Laughter)
Q: What members of Congress will be coming here tomorrow enroute to Aberdeen? What's the reasoning to come here and then go to Aberdeen as an investigation on the...
A: I assume they're coming to get some briefings from the Army, but I don't know that for a fact. We'll get back to you on that. I assume it's just to be brought up to date on the latest events. Is that correct?
A2: They're coming to fly out of here on the helipad...
A: That's easy, they're coming to fly out of here.
I want to point out, we have a briefing right after this by a Senior Defense Official on the Secretary's trip to NATO next week, to the NATO Ministerial meetings. He'll be leaving Thursday night and going to Garmisch to talk to the graduates of the graduating class of the Marshall Center, and then he'll go to Bad Kreuznach to meet with the 1st Armored Division which has just returned from Bosnia, and to attend an awards ceremony there for the members of the 1st Armored Division, and then he'll move on to Brussels on Monday night and spend two days there at NATO meetings. We'll have a briefing on that right after Dr. Rostker...
Q: Is he going to spend Christmas here or in California, or do we know?
A: I believe he plans to spend it here.
Mr. Rostker: Good afternoon.
Q: There was a question I just posed, because obviously some of those people must have been subjected to low levels of sarin during the War, it might be good to go back and talk to some of those survivors.
A: I will ask the question. The suggestion had not come up. I'm unaware that we've done anything in that regard.
Q: Ken said that 26,000 people were currently receiving disability payments in association with this. Have any estimates been done of what the costs could be for dealing with these health problems?
A: The 26,000 is an estimate from the Veterans Administration. We're carrying over 700 in the Department of Defense that are on the retired disability list also.
Q: These are people who were active duty...
A: That's correct.
Q: . ..not retired because of physical problems?
A: That's correct. And the correlation there is, you know, they come in and they'll have a physical. They'll be determined to be disabled and placed on the disability list. We then would go back and look if there's any correlation with those who were on the CCEP, or in the Gulf. But it is their physical conditions at the time they are assessed that is the basis for the determination of being disabled and requiring them to be put on the disability list.
Q: One of the, I guess, accusations, that continues to surface in the press, certainly, and again this morning, is that the Pentagon is not willing to own up to the problem because they're concerned about the billions of dollars it would cost to treat disabled and ailing...
A: I don't think there's a time that I haven't stood before you where I haven't made a plea that anybody who is ill, who is concerned, that they must come in and be assessed and evaluated in our health screening. These are extensive health screenings, much greater than you'd get in a normal physical. We've gone out and asked the people, in fact contacted the people who were near Khamisiyah and had a potential of being exposed to any chemicals that may have been released there to come in. So we've been very proactive in asking people to come in.
It's on the basis of their actual physical condition that any determination by either the Department of Veterans Affairs or by the Disability Boards here at Defense, it's on the basis of their actual physical condition that they would be granted compensation. It has nothing to do about being exposed or not being exposed. So everyone in the Gulf has the opportunity to come in; everyone in the Gulf has the opportunity to be assessed for their health; and if there is a problem, to request compensation. There is nothing that the presence or absence of chemicals would do to impact that determination.
Q: Going back a few months until the present, the figure of those who may have been involved or near Khamisiyah at the time of the explosions varied all the way from a couple of hundred, getting up to 5,000 plus, 15,000. Do you have any good handle now on the number of U.S. troops that were actually in the area, may have been in the area of fall-out because of the prevailing winds? And if not, when do you think you'll have a good handle on the numbers?
A: We have not changed our estimates or the Khamisiyah story. As you know, the plume models have been the subject of some inquiry and we've asked the Institute for Defense Analysis to examine them. That report is due back to Defense on the 15th. I don't have a status on that. That would help us better understand what plume model might or might not be applicable. But we've thrown the net wider than any plume model by drawing the maximum extent we think is likely, and including anybody who is within a full circle, regardless of wind direction. So right now that's a good number. If there's a basis for changing it, we will change it.
Q: What is that number you're giving?
A: Twenty thousand, a little over 20,000.
Q: I wonder if you could share with us as someone who has immersed himself in this, read all the reports, pondered the uncertainties, can you prioritize some of the big questions that are in your mind and kind of prompted study, as someone who has sifted through it all, what would you really like to know, one, two, three, four, if you could sort through all the questions that have arisen in your mind as you've gone through this stuff?
A: I would go back to the three focuses that I asked my office to approach. The first and most important is to make sure that anybody who is sick is getting treatment. When I say sick, anybody who feels ill, who has symptoms, that they come in. We want to make this as easy for them as possible to make sure that they have no long term health consequences and to be able to treat them.
The second is that we want to get at the bottom of any cause. We talk about Gulf illness because right now we can't find a consistent pattern, but we are looking. We've increased the resources by an order of magnitude, several orders of magnitude, to try to get at this, and we owe it not only to the veterans, those who served in the Gulf, but we owe it to future generations of soldiers and Marines and sailors and airmen so that we can remove any possible factor that could lead to illness. And as part of that, we need to make sure that we have the right doctrine and we have the right systems to be able to foster that.
Q: What I'm trying to get at is what medical mysteries loom large in your mind, as opposed to your policy direction which we're familiar with?
A: I think the issue of low level chem needs to be run to ground, and we're not there. I think the issues of pesticides and cross-contamination of pesticides is another chemical that's an important issue. I think the issue of PB and its possible effects needs to be better studied. Those are the three that... And I would say as the President's Commission said also, the interaction of those with stress, which may change some of those dimensions. I think those are important questions that we still have to fully deal with.
Q: Will these studies which are starting to be announced today address some of those...
A: We are moving in all of those fronts, yes.
Q: Just a point of clarification. Is there a standard used by the Defense Department or by the VA that determines whether a person may have become ill from their participation in the Gulf War? Is it done on a case by case basis? If a person has an illness that you can't find a cause for, does that automatically make them eligible? If they have ALS, as is the case in one person's situation? What is the standard that you use? How do you determine who becomes eligible?
A: Congress, in fact, has spoken on this. The Congress has said that if you have an indeterminate diagnosis and you have a manifestation of a problem within two years of service in the Gulf, the presumption is you are service-connected, and therefore will be treated at a Veterans' facility and appropriately compensated if there's a problem.
For those who are on active duty, any person who is on active duty today, having any ailment, is presumed to be service connected, and it will be treated in a military facility or if they have to be retired, will be retired with military disabilities and continue to use military treatment facilities.
Q: But within two years of service. Four years ago...
A: Manifestation within two years of the Gulf. That's the law today, as I understand it. That was a change from the normal requirement to establish service-connected disabilities.
Q: And that has to be documented medically within two years?
A: No, you just have to... Well, you just have to have symptoms within the two-year period, and the presumption is that is related to the Gulf.
Q: But at this point, six years after the war, it might be difficult for some people to establish that they had symptoms two years after the war if they didn't document...
A: They would have to document it. And all of those people would be processed through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Anybody who continues to be on active duty, it is automatically assumed to be service connected because they are still on active duty.
Q: What about a soldier who develops symptoms ten years down the road and the study here is concluded as inconclusive, and this thing drags on as just sort of inconclusive?
A: Right now I can only tell you what the law is; and it is that a manifestation of that symptom has to occur within two years for them to be able to claim service connection.
Q: Do you have a personal view? Do you think there's such a thing as Persian Gulf Syndrome?
A: I think there are people out there who have symptoms. We're committed to get to the bottom of this to the maximum extent possible, and the most important thing is that those people who have concerns come in and we treat them medically. We can give them a diagnosis, and then there's a course of medical treatment, and if we can't, then we can treat the symptoms. But it's very important that they seek medical care.
Q: Do you have an open mind on it yourself, or do you think that...
A: I can't give you a definitive answer because I don't have a definitive answer.
Tomorrow we're having a demonstration for the Veterans organizations in town of the various chemical sensors, mop gear. There's a Fox vehicle here we brought down from Aberdeen. The press has expressed some interest in seeing this also. We invite the press also. Later in the day, we'll also have some congressional staffers come over.
Q: The Fox vehicles and the detections that have been reported originally from the Fox vehicles, being the most sort of high tech, most capable detection system that we have, do you think that lends any credence to the idea that there were low level exposures in the Desert?
Press: Thank you.