Team completes backlog of vet phone calls

WASHINGTON, June 13, 1997 (GulfLINK) — The Pentagon’s 's Gulf War illnesses investigation team has eliminated its entire backlog of telephone calls from veterans, except for those callers who cannot be contacted through the numbers they provided.

Marie Danco, who runs the callback program, said, "We started with a backlog of 1,235 calls in January. We've now reached everyone possible with the phone numbers we have. Unfortunately, about 25 percent of the numbers don't reach people, presumably because they've moved. These aren't just busy signals and no one answering," she said. "The lines are either disconnected or the numbers have been assigned to someone else."

Prior to December, there was no staff dedicated to interviewing all the veterans who had called in wanting to report incidents that might be related to Gulf War illnesses. "The messages unfortunately piled up until the Office of the Special assistant for Gulf War Illnesses was established," Danco said. The new staff started making callbacks to the backlog January 8 of this year.

In order to reach the remaining 25 percent, the office is now sending letters to those veterans the office has an address for, and is asking them to telephone again. "Of course, if the number has been changed, the address probably has, too. We're hoping the postal service will be able to forward much of the mail," Danco noted.

Since Danco's team started working on December 13, 1996, they have received 920 new calls from veterans who had not called previously. Some 85% of these veterans have received thorough interviews that have lasted as long as one and one-half hours, usually within a few days of the veteran's initial call.

Danco urges veterans who called in last year and who have not been contacted, along with any other veterans who have had experiences that might be related to Gulf War illnesses -- to call the gulf War Hotline at 1-800-472-6719.

Danco's office is interviewing veterans about their personal experiences. The office's team of investigators and analysts use the interviews as they try to build a record of what happened during the war that might be related to Gulf War illnesses. The final product of this effort is a series of Case Narratives, or written reports detailing incidents and events in the Gulf War that could help us better understand the nature of possible causes of Gulf War illnesses.

Danco concluded, "Based on our interviews with many veterans, we have found that a large number of veterans with health concerns have not yet registered with the CCEP (the Defense Department's Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program for Gulf veterans), nor have they reported incidents that my be useful to our investigation. We are very interested in hearing from those with information or health concerns. Someone who has yet to call in may hold the key to answering the difficult questions facing the investigation team."