Gulf War Illnesses Office Looks to Challenges Ahead

WASHINGTON, March 10, 1998 (GulfLINK) - The Pentagon's Gulf War Illnesses office is expanding the search for an answer to the question of why so many Gulf War veterans are ill. Speaking at a Pentagon news briefing recently, Bernard D. Rostker, the Defense Department's special assistant for Gulf War illnesses, said 1997 could be thought of as the year of the chemical incident.

"A great deal of work was completed regarding Khamisiyah and other chemical incidents reported in Kuwait," he said. "We have certainly drawn conclusions about that."

"Next year will be focused on more general environmental problems, particularly the oil well fires, depleted uranium, and pesticides," said Rostker.

As the Pentagon investigators move ahead, he said a complementary program of medical research has been taken on by universities throughout the United States.

"They are looking at a whole range of potential causes with an emphasis in last year's funded research on the low level chemicals and the possibility of contamination from multiple sources," Rostker said.

The intense work being done by the Gulf War illnesses office will also be used to develop programs intended to prevent future service members from falling victim to the illnesses affecting some Gulf War veterans.

"I've always stressed that it's not just for them, because if we can't explain what happened in the Gulf and we can't develop those lessons, then we're bound to relive them with future generations of soldiers," Rostker said. "The work we do on low level chemical exposures, on depleted uranium, on pesticides, on pyridostigmine bromide is very important to make sure that we get it right in the future."

After outlining the goals for the coming year, Rostker remains confident his team of investigators will be able to paint a much more complete picture by year's end.

"By next November, we should have completed and republished the chemical incidents," Rostker said. "We will have completed the major environmental inquiries, and then I think we can start to draw down."

However, Rostker said the Gulf War illnesses office won't completely cease operations. He said the office will continue to have one very important function, even after all the research has been done.

That role will be "working with the veterans and with our active duty service personnel who have concerns," Rostker said. "That's something that will continue in terms of an ongoing program of keeping in contact with the veterans."

"The men and women who served in the Gulf want and deserve to know what happened in the Gulf, were they exposed to anything that could have impacted on their health," said Rostker. "That has been our focus this last year and will continue to be the unique focus of my office."