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GULF WAR ILLNESSES (Senate - September 01, 1998)
[Page: S9730]

Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, Senator Specter announced earlier today the release of a voluminous and comprehensive report of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs special investigation unit on Gulf War illnesses. I commend the Senator from Pennsylvania and the other Members of the Committee, including my colleague from West Virginia, Senator Rockefeller, on this report, which was over a year in the making. In great detail, this report and its appendices provide the justification for legislation that Senator Specter, Senator Rockefeller, and I introduced on July 28, S. 2358, the Gulf War Veterans Act of 1998.

The history of this sorry saga of war, illness, and bureaucratic bungling it details has not improved with time. Indeed, age has turned this victory wine into sour vinegar, not a vintage to be savored. Since the signing of the cease fire in Iraq in 1991, soldiers have been complaining of symptoms that have been poorly dealt with by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. As the years have passed, we have learned that these soldiers, sailors, and airmen had to operate in a toxic atmospheric cocktail of environmental and battlefield hazards, topped off with a chaser of vaccines and pills that may have interacted poorly with all the other hazardous exposures. We have learned that our equipment to detect and protect our troops may not be good enough, and that their training and doctrine is inadequate. We have even learned of the role that the U.S. played in arming Iraq with chemical and biological warfare technology and materials. Finally, DOD and the VA record keeping was poor, the databases inadequately designed and incompatible, so that the ability to identify battlefield exposures--when known--is not available to the VA when requested by a sick soldier. We won the war, but the price paid by these soldiers has been unacceptably high, perhaps needlessly high. And DOD and the VA have done little to correct the problems. The official motto seems to be `That which does not kill us, we ignore--unless forced to address it.'

Like other Members, I have tried to correct these matters as they have come to light. I successfully offered an amendment to ensure DOD and the Intelligence Community consultation when pathogens useful to a biological warfare program are approved for export, so that we have a better opportunity to track countries that have the capability, if not the intent, to produce biological warfare agents. I obtained funding for the first peer-reviewed scientific studies of the possible health effects of exposure to low levels of chemical warfare agents. An amendment I authored that was adopted by the Senate but rejected in conference would have provided military health care to the children of Gulf War veterans born with birth defects that might be linked to their parent's wartime exposures.

This year, I offered amendments to the Department of Defense authorization bill to improve the oversight and approval process for granting waivers to use investigational drugs without informed consent of the troops, and to require a review of chemical warfare defense doctrine to address exposure to low levels of chemical warfare agents. This last effort is based on a soon-to-be released General Accounting Organization (GAO) study that I requested last year in conjunction with Senator Levin and Senator Glenn. I am sorry to say that, despite DOD's 1996 show of concern over possible chemical exposures at Khamisiyah [Kam-ih-see-yah] and other Iraqi sites that may have resulted in the exposure of U.S. personnel to varying levels of chemical warfare agents, little has been done to address the lack of training that should better enable our troops to recognize and take effective action to protect themselves from these potential health threats. We have also requested GAO to look into the adequacy of U.S. detection and protection equipment and efforts to address hazardous, but not lethal, levels of chemical and biological warfare agents. This study will be completed next year.

While I hope that my efforts and the efforts of other Members and Committees can push DOD and the VA into facing the serious new health consequences of war on the modern battlefield, even these cannot adequately substitute for an epiphany in those departments that will result in a sincere and thorough examination of this issue, and in proactive and coordinated steps to correct the deficiencies outlined in this comprehensive report.

There is no smoking gun in this report, no explosive new evidence that says `whodunit' and why. But like previous reports by Congress, the GAO, and the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses, this report confirms that our veterans were exposed to a poison cocktail of hazardous materials, that many are now ill, and that the bureaucratic response has been slow and stumbling. It is likely that there will never be a clear and final answer for our sick soldiers and their families as to exactly what ails them. But this report does offer many corrective recommendations aimed at preventing the veterans of the next war from having to go through the years of frustration and outrage that the sick veterans of the Persian Gulf War have endured. It also offers a solid foundation to move forward and address the legitimate health concerns of Persian Gulf veterans that are contained in S. 2358, the Persian Gulf Veterans Act of 1998. Gulf War veterans in West Virginia and across the country are getting sick as a result of their participation in the Gulf War, which may have exposed them to a variety of hazardous materials and chemicals while serving their country. But instead of receiving medical care, these veterans are given bureaucratic excuses. It is time to end the litany of excuses and to give our veterans the health care they deserve. I again thank my friend from Pennsylvania, Mr. Specter, for his efforts, and the efforts and my colleague from West Virginia, Mr. Rockefeller. I congratulate and thank the committee for its efforts. I look forward to the successful passage of S. 2358.

Mr. President, I thank my friend, Mr. Specter, for his courtesy in allowing me to proceed at this point. I now yield the floor.

[Page: S9731]

Mr. SPECTER addressed the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Sessions). The Senator from Pennsylvania.

END



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