Senate Raps Investigation, Chemical Warfare Training


 By Douglas J. Gillert 

American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON -- A new Senate report criticizes the federal 

 investigation of Gulf War illnesses but generally supports 

 findings suggesting there's no single cause of the illnesses. 

 Moreover, most military units are not adequately trained to 

 respond to future chemical or biological attacks, the report 



 "There is no smoking gun in this report, no explosive new 

 evidence that says 'whodunit' and why," committee member Sen. 

 Robert Byrd said. But the report confirms that 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," Byrd said.


 The DoD investigation didn't integrate crucial weather 

 information provided by the Air Force, according to the Sept. 1 

 report from the special investigation unit of the Senate 

 Veterans' Affairs Committee. Neither did the department subject 

 its findings to important critical scientific review by outside 

 experts, the report said.


 A scientific consultant contracted by the Senate investigators 

 supported these criticisms. The consultant also said DoD grossly 

 overestimated the numbers of service members who may have been 

 exposed to chemical warfare agents.


 The investigating unit found no evidence to either prove or 

 disprove Iraq used chemical weapons during the Gulf War. 

 However, the report concluded that the U.S. military was not 

 adequately prepared to deal with the threat of biological or 

 chemical warfare and is still unprepared today.


 "Although the threat of chemical and biological warfare has 

 increased since the Gulf War and hangs heavy over the potential 

 battlefields of the 21st century, the military still has 

 inadequate supplies of vaccines and chemical biological 

 protective equipment," the report said.


 "Almost eight years after the Gulf War, our military is still 

 not prepared to fight in a chemical or biological warfare 

 environment, said committee member Sen. Jay Rockefeller. The


 senator pointed to a DoD inspector general report that 

 corroborates these findings.


 The IG report, released July 17, said only the Navy's surface 

 ships have fully integrated chemical and biological defenses 

 into the unit training mission. The DoD inspectors reviewed 232 

 military units. At 187 of the units, "commanders could not 

 adequately assess unit readiness to successfully complete 

 wartime missions under chemical and biological conditions," the 

 IG report stated. Management controls "needed improvement to 

 ensure that chemical and biological defense is fully integrated 

 into all levels of unit training," the report concluded.


 Bernard Rostker, who heads the DoD Gulf War illness 

 investigation, said the Senate report contains good insight 

 about the investigation and recommendations for improvement.


 "While there are some criticisms, which we will address, we 

 appreciate the good working relationships developed with the 

 [special investigation unit] staff who traveled with us to 

 search for answers to help veterans," Rostker said. "We look 

 forward to continuing this work with the committee."


 In an earlier statement, Rostker praised DoD for taking lessons 

 learned from the Gulf War to develop new protective measures for 

 deployed troops. He said his investigation revealed a need for 

 better record-keeping, medical surveillance, environmental 

 sampling and forward-deploying biological detection. Since the 

 Gulf War, he said, DoD has fielded a new gas mask, tested 

 medical dog tags and begun developing improved chemical alarm 



 "I can't take direct credit, but the importance of these issues 

 is consistent with what we have learned," he said.


 DoD also has launched a departmentwide vaccination program that 

 eventually will provide every service member and certain 

 civilian employees and contractors with protection against 

 anthrax, a deadly nerve agent that can be easily weaponized. 

 Anyone deploying to the Persian Gulf receives the shots, and 

 those assigned to units in South Korea received the first of a 

 series of six required inoculations in September.