Filed at 3:57 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Clinton, accepting harsh criticism of his Defense Department, moved Saturday to create a panel for monitoring Pentagon research into mysterious illnesses that have hit many veterans of the Persian Gulf War.
The president also promised to ask Congress for a new benefits system that would give veterans treatment and compensation for illnesses linked to service in the Gulf War ``even if we cannot identify the direct cause.''
More than $13 million in government research funds would be directed to new research on low-level exposure to chemical agents and other possible causes of the ailments dating to the United States' 1991 military campaign to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. Reported symptoms include immune problems, vertigo, memory loss, fatigue, diarrhea and insomnia.
``The men and women of our Armed Forces put everything on the line for us. I am determined that we show the same resolve for them,'' Clinton said in a statement coinciding with issuance of the final report of his Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses.
It was this committee that first recommended Clinton strip the Defense Department of lead authority in the project. Pentagon actions to date in investigating chemical exposures in the war, the committee said, ``had produced an atmosphere of mistrust surrounding every aspect of Gulf War veterans' illnesses.''
``The government's credibility ... continues to be challenged,'' the committee wrote in a summary of its report.
The federal oversight board of five members would be led by former Sen. Warren Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican and already an adviser to Defense Secretary William Cohen on the matter, and would include retired Navy Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, administration officials said.
Zumwalt, whose formal appointment is still being cleared, fought to expand Agent Orange benefits to Vietnam vets.
Dr. Joyce Lashof, the committee chairman, said Gulf veterans ``can now feel confident that we are doing everything possible to understand their illnesses.''
``When we will have all the answers, whether we will ever have every answer to every nagging question, we just don't know. There's a great deal of research still going on,'' she added.
Under his Saturday directive, Clinton also asked the National Academy of Sciences to review research into possible connections between reported illnesses and service in the Persian Gulf.
He also instructed the Defense Department to create a new program of lifelong, comprehensive medical records for all members of the Armed Forces in order to monitor troops and hazards in future conflicts.
© Copyright 1997 The Associated Press