GAO Report Cites DoD's Efforts to Address Gulf War Illnesses Issues


WASHINGTON, March 26, 1999 (GulfLINK) The Defense Department "has made progress in carrying out its mandate to comprehensively address Gulf War illnesses-related issues," according to a General Accounting Office report released this week. The report credits the Department's efforts to respond to complaints and inquires from veterans while pointing out that the DoD' evaluation of cases could be improved.

For the past 18 months, the GAO has reviewed DoD's Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses' procedures to determine whether it has diligently addressed issues related to Gulf War illnesses. The GAO's specific objectives were to describe DoD's progress in establishing an organization to address Gulf War illnesses issues and to evaluate the thoroughness of OSAGWI's investigation into and reporting of incidents of potential chemical or biological warfare agent exposures during the Gulf War.

"The GAO investigators painstakingly reviewed our methodology, investigative procedures and techniques," said Bernard Rostker, the special assistant for Gulf War illnesses. "We are pleased that they found them appropriate; that they found no appreciable errors in four of the six cases investigated and agreed with our assessments in five of the six narratives reviewed outright."

In the sixth case, the GAO asked DoD's investigators to reconsider the conclusion in light of new information. They said that an "indeterminate" assessment might be more appropriate. Rostker said incorporating new information and revising reports is at the heart of his office's process.

The GAO also suggested improved internal review procedures and the Defense Department concurred. "We agree to revise our reports to include new or unreported data. The findings will be reassessed based upon any new evidence," Rostker said. "This is consistent with our philosophy of publishing interim - not final - reports."

Rostker said the GAO's efforts will have a long-term, positive effect on DoD's investigation of the illnesses of Gulf War veterans. "Throughout the GAO's investigation," he said, "the staff provided periodic briefings, often offering pragmatic, candid suggestions. Through this communication process, we were able to make improvements and policy changes. Consequently, we have already begun to address most of the recommendations made in the report. This has been a very worthwhile effort."

The GAO is a non-partisan organization that conducts research and investigation for Congress. This report was requested by Rep. Lane Evans of Illinois, ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.