Gulflink Backgrounder

Whys and hows of the Pentagonís Gulf War ĎCase narrativesí

WASHINGTON, DC, March 25, 1997 (GulfLINK) - The Defense Department is in the process of drafting a series of reports on events and incidents in the Gulf War that may help clarify how events in the Gulf might contribute to our understanding of Gulf War illnesses. These reports are called "case narratives." This GulfLINK Backgrounder explains the basis of these case narratives.

When Bernard Rostker was named Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses in November 1996, one of his first concerns was the relative paucity of knowledge on the dozens of incidents and events in the Gulf War that have been hypothesized as possible sources of Gulf War illnesses.

"We had lots of medical research underway," Rostker said. "But we werenít doing a whole lot to speedily get to the bottom of the Khamisiyah incident. We knew there were suspicions about pyridostigmine bromide as a source of illness, but we didnít know all we should know about how many troops used it and what they used it in combination with."

Several weeks after Rostker was put in charge of the Pentagonís efforts, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veteransí Illnesses handed its report to President Clinton. The report gave high marks to the Pentagon and VA for their programs of medical research and health care provided to veterans.

But then the committee said it "takes issue with the governmentís performance in one key area: investigation of possible exposures of U.S. troops to chemical and biological warfare agents in the Gulf. We found substantial evidence of site-specific, low-level exposures to chemical warfare agents. Moreover, we found DoDís investigations to date superficial and unlikely to provide credible answers to veteransí and the publicís questions."

Rostker has made it his top priority to respond promptly to that critique of the Pentagonís performance. One of his principal tools has been the case narratives which are being prepared by the Investigations and Analysis Directorate in his office.

Anne Rathmell Davis, the Director of Investigations and Analysis, said, "These case narratives will be descriptions of what we know to date. They will simply describe what we know. Every factual statement will be footnoted. When we publish these narratives on GulfLINK, youíll be able to click on the footnote and go to the document from which we took the information. Youíll be able to double check the content as well as see the context for yourself. This is scholarly research with the ultimate in footnote access."

Rostker said the narratives will be posted on GulfLINK as first drafts or interim reports. "These will not be finished products," he said. "Thatís intentional. They will include what we know to date. But I doubt that we will know everything there is to know without more help. Veterans will be able to review the narratives and send comments back to the analysts and investigators. Hopefully, this will result in additional leads. Then we will update and revise these interim narratives. And weíll do that as many times as it takes to get it as complete as we can."

Davis said much of the research involves interviewing veterans, sometimes repeatedly, about their personal experiences in the Gulf. More than 200 interviews were conducted before the first interim case narrative on Khamisiyah was completed.

In addition to the interviews and official cables, the sources of information include military operations logs, classified intelligence, testimony to Congress and the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veteransí Illnesses, as well as medical and scientific literature.

Davis invited veterans with any knowledge of incidents to telephone the Gulf War Incident Reporting Hotline at 1-800-472-6719.

The first interim case narrative, on the Khamisiyah incident, was released February 25.

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