Panel Clears Pentagon of Cover-Up in Gulf War Syndrome
The Pentagon did not engage in a cover-up gulf war syndrome and has worked "diligently" to determine the cause of the "unexplained ailments among veterans," the final report of a presidential panel said yesterday. Advocacy groups, however, criticized the panel as being too closely associated with the Defense Department, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. After 30 months of work, the Presidential Special Oversight Board for Department of Defense Investigations of Gulf War Chemical and Biological Incidents "repeated the main themes of all Pentagon findings," and said that "research has not validated any specific cause of these illnesses." Addressing allegations of a cover-up, the 90-page report said that the Defense Department "made no effort to deliberately withhold information. ... On the contrary, [the department] has made an extraordinary effort to publicize its findings through the publication of reports and newsletters, public outreach meetings, briefings to veterans" and a Web site. It did, however, call for further research into the ailments of thousands of Gulf War veterans, which include memory loss, nervous system disorder, headaches, joint pains and fatigue (AP/Houston Chronicle, 12/21).
The panel, led by former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), concluded that stress, and "not exposure to chemical warfare or smoke and dust from depleted uranium ammunition explosions," was "most likely" responsible for "some" of the ailments, the Hartford Courant reports. The report said that the veterans' symptoms "are similar to those found in the general population and to those of veterans returning from combat duty in previous duties and from recent peacekeeping duties." Some symptoms are also similar to those suffered by people with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and multiple chemical sensitivity. The report, according to the Courant, "discounted earlier studies showing that Gulf War veterans have more sickness than other segments of the population."
The medical conclusions and the exoneration of the Pentagon were criticized by advocates for sick veterans. Dr. Robert Haley, who received $3 million from the Pentagon to study the illnesses, said "stress was discredited three years ago as a major cause." Bob Newman, an aide to Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who chaired committee hearings on the syndrome, added, "The report, though well meaning, is yet one more failed attempt to diagnose stress as the cause of sickness among (more than 100,000) soldiers. Sixteen (Congressional hearings), with dozens of scientific experts from the private sector, clearly established that these sick veterans were exposed to one of, or a combination of, 33 toxic agents known to be present in the Gulf War theater" (Williams, Hartford Courant, 12/21). Immunologist Dr. Vinh Cam was the only panel member out of seven who dissented from the report, saying the board "lacked independence from the Pentagon's Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses," which the panel oversaw. She also said that the panel "had no authority to suggest that stress be studied further as a possible cause." Pat Eddington, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, called the board's relationship with the Pentagon "cozy" and concluded, "It's a whitewash -- exactly the kind of whitewash we were expecting" (AP/Houston Chronicle, 12/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.