Clinton to Form Oversight Panel on Gulf War Illnesses
By PAUL RICHTER, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON--President Clinton has ordered creation of a new oversight body to monitor how the Pentagon investigates the causes of so-called Gulf War illnesses in a rebuke to defense officials' handling of the issue, officials said Friday.
As a White House advisory panel wraps up its study of the ailments today with release of a final report, Clinton is expected to announce the five-member oversight panel headed by former Sen. Warren B. Rudman. The president also has ordered steps that may make it easier for those veterans who fear that they may suffer from the mysterious illnesses to qualify for compensation.
The maladies have become a potent political issue since thousands of the GIs who helped fight Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War began complaining of symptoms that included nausea, insomnia, rashes, and memory and digestive problems.
Medical researchers have been split on the causes, with many asserting that wartime stress may account for many of the complaints and a smaller number contending that chemical exposures or unhealthy combinations of various chemicals in the region may be responsible.
Pentagon officials have been thrown on the defensive since mid-1996, when they disclosed that, contrary to earlier assertions, thousands of veterans may have been exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons when U.S. troops blew up a chemical storage facility at a bleak desert outpost called Kamisiyah.
Officials said Clinton will ask an independent scientific body to investigate whether some of the veterans' diagnosed illnesses are, in fact, the result of their Persian Gulf service. The investigators will try to determine whether some illnesses have a higher incidence among veterans of the war than among GIs who were not deployed. If so, the deployed veterans will be made eligible for treatment and compensation.
Clinton also has ordered the Pentagon to establish new safeguards to ensure that troops in future deployments are protected from chemical exposures or other possible causes of the Gulf War syndrome.
And he will call for an additional $13 million in funding for research into the ailments. These studies will focus on two elusive questions raised by the syndrome: whether very low-level exposure to toxic chemicals can cause ailments and whether seemingly safe chemicals can combine with dangerous effects.
Copyright 1997 Los Angeles Times