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Republican of Connecticut.  He chaired the House Subcommittee on Government Oversight which issued a critical report calling the investigations by the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments

Q: With regard to the Dept. of Defense (DOD), you heard stories, as you mentioned earlier, by veterans about events in the Gulf and so forth. What most bothered you initially about the nature of the DOD's response to these stories?

A: Well, this is what we know. We know a number of troops came back sick. Not mentally ill, physically ill, rashes they didn't have before, throwing up, weaknesses, incapacitation, a whole host of symptoms that made it clear they weren't well. Basically the DOD just, without any hesitation, said, This is not due to their experience in the Gulf War. And so the DOD was just totally in denial.

 

The VA accepted the DOD's sense of what happened, that there was no relationship, and yet the veterans were coming back and saying, During the war sirens went off. We ran to our bunkers. We then -- the bunker sirens went off again and we came out of the bunkers, and we smelled and tasted a chemical substance. We saw the effect, a substance on the ground. We started to cough. We started to spit up blood. We ran down back into our bunkers. They would describe dead animals with no insects next to them. And they would continue to describe what happened and how they responded.

Before the war the sirens didn't go off. The alarm systems didn't -- but during the war they went off constantly. We had the DOD say, Well these were not well calibrated instruments, so we didn't have a concern. But we had well calibrated instruments from Fox Equipment. This is equipment that basically you use and you drive into a scene where you think you have exposure and it is equipment that they don't even get out of. This well-calibrated equipment was saying, There are high levels of chemicals. We had the checks that had documented and convincing evidence our troops were exposed. And then what did we have? We had the acknowledgement on 4 o-clock Friday, after a hastily announced press conference at 12:00 that there would be a press conference at 4:00 by the DOD before our hearing on Tuesday acknowledging that Khamisiyah that in fact we have blown up a depot where there were chemicals. And that maybe a few hundred of our troops were exposed. Well that was a great revelation. One hastily called because they knew that in one of our hearings we had a soldier who had videotaped the blowing up of this depot and had videotaped the shells and the rockets that had chemicals in them.

Then they acknowledged, Well maybe it wasn't just 500, maybe it was 1000, then maybe it was not 1000 but 2000, then it was 5000, then it was 10,000, then they went up to 20,000.

Now, we then started asking questions, Well what about the chemical and biological plants that we blew up by air?

Q: How do you explain something like Khamisiyah not being known about until the spring of last year?

A: Well, the DOD knew about it. The CIA knew about it. And there's no way to explain it that puts the CIA or the DOD in a good light. They knew about it. They kept it to themselves and troops that were there got sicker.

Q: It's a cover up?

A: Oh it's clearly a cover up. I mean, I have no reluctance in saying that. I might have earlier on, but after 11 hearings, everything that we've learned we've had to pull out of the DOD. Everything that we've learned from VA, we have to pull out of them. They have been basically in denial, and you know, I don't know the motive. I can't tell you the motive. But it must be very difficult for people who are healers, doctors, to come to grips with the fact that in the process of their denial, good men and women, under orders by their government, sent there by me and other Congressmen, got sicker because people simply didn't want to share information that would have been helpful to their health.

Q: But Congressman, are you sure it's a cover up, or could it be incompetence?

A: Well it would have to be such incompetence that it would be more favorable to say it was a cover up.

Q: You see, the CIA's account is very convoluted of how they knew about this place in '76, knew it was chemicals weapons in '88, lost the name, got it confused. Do you think that's a fabrication?

A; Let me say this to you. When I was sworn in in 1987, a month later I had a briefing, a few months after I was sworn in in September, I had a briefing and I learned that we had some of our allies providing ingredients for a chemical to be made in China and Iran and one or two other countries like Iraq, that Iraq had a very extensive program to produce biological and chemical weapons. That's basically accepted knowledge. But I had more in-depth background presented to me. So there wasn't one person in Congress who had had even a minor briefing and didn't know that. There shouldn't have been anyone in the military who didn't know that throughout Iraq were depots that potentially could have chemicals in them, that they had plants producing biological and chemical agents. We all knew it. The military knew it. The CIA knew it.

In fact we had done studies to say that if we blew up some of these depots and some of these chemical and biological plants, which way the flames would go, and that was wrong.

So, what's the bottom line? The bottom line is that the CIA knew before the war, during and war, and after the war where most of these chemicals were and most of these biological agents. The Pentagon knew. Unfortunately Congress knew that they were in certain places, but we didn't know where. And we raised questions like, Didn't you blow up depots? Didn't you bomb chemical and biological plants? Isn't is possible that our troops were exposed? No. No. No exposure.

Q: And you think it's impossible, especially given the United Nations, UNSCOM knew of Khamisiyah in October 1991, it's sort of impossible that the DOD and CIA could have lost this knowledge?

A: We knew shortly after the war that our troops were becoming ill. That should have raised questions in the minds of a lot of people. It's hard for me to imagine that some people in the CIA who had firsthand knowledge would be unable to recognize that this would be helpful information for a soldier's death. Forget having Congress know. The soldiers. Think how outraged you would be as a soldier to learn, five years later, that you might have been exposed to chemicals, and that if they knew sooner you might have been able to be in a treatment program and yet you weren't given that information. Tell me whether you'd be outraged?

Q: The Department of Defense emerged from this war in a victorious fashion. Have they, and the VA now, in your view, lost all credibility?

A: The DOD, the VA, the CIA, and even the FDA as it related to their involvement with the DOD, has no credibility with me. None. I keep becoming hopeful that there will be a change in attitude and approach. But it's very superficial. And I don't say that lightly, but I say that after having 11 hearings and an investigation that's gone on a year and a half. We should be a lot further along than we are. We know a lot more than we knew a year and a half ago. But, given what's at stake, the health and life of our soldiers and their loved ones, we should be moving along a lot more quickly.

I even thought, frankly, that the President's Commission were quick to accept that this was basically -- our soldiers were coming back traumatized, and that it was really more of a mental problem than a physical problem. They accepted the argument of the DOD and the VA that this was in fact the case. I find that pretty outrageous. And they've had to backtrack on it.

Q: In your many hearings, you had a great number of veterans and their families come and give very moving testimony. And initially this covered a great many conditions. Nowadays most people talk the kind of symptoms you spoke of. But initially we had people, and we still do, who are attributing things like Lou Gehrig's, arthritis, some cancers and some birth defects, to Gulf War. Do you believe that?

A; I don't think there is one cause of Gulf War illness. I think there are a lot of causes, and I think it's interdisciplinary. I think one cause can lead to another. Chemical exposure can heighten and quicken other illnesses and make them more acute. The tensions can as well. There are a lot of factors that come into play. But Gulf War Syndrome is not one cause, not one illness. It is many causes, many illnesses.

Q: So it doesn't rule out yet, in your view, the idea this can be an infectious disease that affects family members?

A: It doesn't rule out that at all. No. I think it can be infectious. In some cases I think it is.

Q: It doesn't rule out that it can cause birth defects in children?

A: It doesn't rule out that it can cause birth defects. I believe it can.

Q: Can we talk just chemicals for a minute before we move on to the PAC and the science. You mentioned the alarms. Now DOD said that they've said on some occasions to me, people who were there before Desert Storm, that alarms were going off before the war and that many interferences can set off these alarms. Do you accept that argument?

A: First off, we've had sworn testimony from soldiers and testimony before our staff that wasn't sworn, that said these alarms rarely went off, that they went off after the war in most cases and went off a lot. So I do simply dispute that. And now, in terms of DOD's response, why don't they have credibility? Because a lot of the documents and a lot of the data have been destroyed by them. And I find that outrageous. They can't respond to us by giving us the facts. In some cases, where they feel they can prove their point, they've found the documents. Where they can prove that maybe in this instance or that instance what we think could be true isn't true. But in other instances they can't. So they've only been able to find the documents when they can kind of prove the veterans to be wrong, and it's been rare. But in other instances, they've lost it.

Q: Can I make an argument, which I think they'd make if they were here, which is that this was a very short war and there wasn't much emphasis on keeping records. A lot of records were burned and thrown away, and that some of the things like the Fox Vehicles there was no provision to keep tapes and so forth, and that people are applying standards that are different than during the war.

A: I know in times of war there are a lot of things that don't happen. But I would argue that a longer war it's more difficult to keep records than a shorter war. It strikes me that a few days after a victory that the DOD would be requiring their people to keep these records, to make sure they are stored in the right place. There are protocols that should have been followed that weren't. So I find it not very plausible that a short war makes it more difficult to keep records than a long war.

Q: So that's no excuse.

A: I think the argument that this was a short war, and therefore the records weren't being kept, is just not at all acceptable to me. Now, if you say to me that during times of war it's -- you're not going to keep records, you're going to fight the war, I accept that. But we have testimony that records existed, that soldiers signed off, that soldiers made reports from the Fox Equipment and that these records no longer exist. Yes, I have a hard time accepting that. What would be the reason why you would destroy these records?

Q: What about the argument of the interferences? I wanted you to address that. Do you believe interferences-- compounds, diesel exhaust, those things--can set off these alarms?

A: I think you could have alarms go off because of factors unrelated to chemicals. So let's discount 90% of the alarms. The 10% is a large number. Let's discount 95%. Why don't we even discount 98%. Two percent is a large number, considering the thousands of alarms that went off. The diesels were working before the war, not just during the war. Our troops were moving before the war not just during the war.

Q: So how would have been a more appropriate way to respond to claims that alarms were going on all the time? So say that some of these are interferences, but others might be taken seriously? What would have been a more appropriate way for the DOD to address this problem?

A: I think the DOD immediately, in 1991 and '92 when our soldiers started to share their problems and we could see these very real situations of bad health and death, that they would have wanted to seek out all records and to, while memories where still fresh, reconstitute some of these records. It would seem to me that that would have been the logical thing to do.

Q: You are aware that some things of course can't be reproduced. If you've only run a Fox vehicle once and not twice with a full spectrum, it's impossible to get to the bottom of that kind of story isn't it?

A: But it would be important to have sworn statements by the soldiers that said, I went into a certain area and this is my recollection of the equipment, of what we found, and have that document be there so they don't have to recall it five years later.

There's another issue here-- and I have some limits as to what I can say--but there's some real question as to the viability of the chemical masks, the protective gear used by our soldiers. There are real questions about how effective it was in actual use. How our soldiers knew to put on the equipment. How well they were trained to put it on. How well they were trained when they took it off and how well they were trained to store it, and just how effective the equipment was in general. I can't disclose to you documents that I am aware of, but there is a question as to how viable this equipment was.

So there's a lot of factors that are coming into play here.

Q: Now, the VA and the DOD, regardless of the way they've behaved and their shortcomings, we have a scientific question to determine, a medical mystery if you like, and I want to move on to the scientific issues.

We had, from 1992, a couple of cluster studies done by the Army, the one in Indiana and Georgia. And we had I think five, scientific panels that have looked at this story since then. I want to start with the health outcomes --

A: Can I just disagree with your statement?

Q: Yes.

A: You mean to tell me there were no studies done after World War I. There were no studies done after World War II. There were no studies done after the Korean. We've learned that there were studies done.

Q: I'm talking about the Gulf War --

A: But I just want to step in here because you've triggered something that's very important for me to respond to.

Basically, the DOD has said, We haven't really done any studies on chemical exposure. That this is -- because we have made an assumption, they didn't call it an assumption, I'll call it an assumption. But because they believed that if there wasn't acute illness because of chemical exposure, then there wasn't harmful chemical exposure, therefore discounting low level exposure to chemicals, that they haven't done any studies.

What we know from World War I is that some of our troops had acute symptoms of exposure to chemicals, had bad health and died because of chemical exposure in World War I. We also know that when our troops came home after World War I some died premature because of their exposure. We know this happened after World War II. We know this happened in terms of radiation. We know this happened in terms of Agent Orange. There have been a lot of studies done, but the DOD hasn't compiled them together and has ignored some of these studies.

Q: Let's move then to the President's Advisory Committee, which has studied the issue for two years. I've interviewed, at length, the scientific members of that Committee. They would agree with you, I think, you're not dealing with a unique syndrome. I don't think that's a point of issue. But they would say, so far, that the epidemiological evidence shows no unexpected excess mortality, so far. Do you agree with that?

A: Well first off, I don't trust their data, which makes it difficult for them to convince me, because the documents, the questions they have asked of the soldiers have not been focused on areas where they should be focused on in terms of what kind of exposures they've had.

Q: This is a mortality thing. This is purely in trying to determine whether more people die or not.

A: But my recollection of some of those documents -- a lot of the documentation is the health of soldiers in a VA facility. They haven't been able to compare the health of soldiers in a VA facility, in a DOD facility, and those who go to the private sector. People who aren't going to the VA don't always show up in their radar screen.

They could not tell us, in the beginning when we started our hearings in June of '69[sic] what soldiers actually fought in the Gulf War. They could not even tell us who was there. So how in the world could they tell us who died and who didn't die.

Q: This is an epidemiological sample. If it's a random sample and you compare it with a group of similarly matched people you should be able to tell. It's a standard technique in epidemiology.

A: The issue is, how random was that study? In other words, give me the whole universe, potential of people who fought in the war and ... I know what you're arguing, and I understand the statistical analysis. The bottom line is we don't know who fought there and we don't know who died, and we don't know how random this study was.

Q: So you don't accept that study? Well, there's three studies in New England Journal of Medicine--one is no excess mortality, one is no excess hospitalizations, one is no excess birth defects. Would you question all three of those?

A: The bottom line is I don't accept it because I don't think they took from a random sample.

Q: The other thing that PAC says is, and I have to give their arguments, -- the kind of common symptom, the kind of symptomatology that you're left with, the unexplained symptoms, are common in the general population and they're more common in the post war period when you look at previous wars.

A: Let me just say to you, I make an assumption that if you fight in a way that you've affected your health in a negative way. I think that some of our soldiers die in the battlefield and some come home to bad health and die prematurely, just by the nature of the kind of business they're in. So I accept to some measure that's going to be the case, and I think most soldiers do. The fact is though, that we've had a number of soldiers who described events that took place while they were in the Persian Gulf, the negative health affects while they were there, and then the symptoms that happened immediately after they left. I don't think that just happened as a random result.

Q: The other thing the Presidential Advisory Committe (PAC) said--as indeed all of the panels--is they think stress is likely to be a major contributing factor to this symptomatology.

A: Well, I would have a lot of stress if I was sick and I went to the VA and they ignored me, and I heard the DOD say, 'Well these events never took place.' I would have stress and anger and frustration, and I would assume that would make me even sicker.

Q: Yes. So, why in your view, has stress created such a hostile response?

A: Because stress is a factor and not the primary cause. I believe that stress is a factor in any bad health. And I think most scientists believe that as well. But we have sworn testimony of exposures and we have symptoms that are very accepted. We have symptoms that relate to chemical exposure. The bottom line to this is, there are few doctors who have any expertise in chemical exposure. When I said we had thousands of doctors at the VA, we have thousands of doctors at the VA. We have less than a handful of doctors who have any expertise in chemical exposure. When we brought the doctors to the committee who are experts in chemical exposure, they started to describe the symptoms that take place when you have exposure to chemicals. And those symptoms just paralleled the symptoms that our soldiers shared with us. They were identical.

Q: But they don't include things like myosis do they? Which is the cardinal sign of serin attack for instance?

A: In some cases we had that, but in most cases no, correct.

Q: The PAC have been through the various risk factors in their report, and they report depleted uranium, peritostigmine bromide, biological weapons, chemical weapons, pesticides, insecticides, and they use the term "unlikely," as a risk factor. And that's their conclusion really of these things. Now, are you a scientist, and if not, why do you think you should disagree.

A: First off, I'm not a scientist, and I make no apology for that. I just have some basic common sense that when other scientists come before our committee--experts nationally on chemical exposure--and they describe the effect of these various types of exposures and the interdisciplinary nature of them, Yes, I believe those scientists. I do believe them.

Q: Why do you chose to believe those scientists and not scientists on the PAC?

A: Because the scientists on the PAC don't have expertise on chemical exposure. And they -- it's not traditional medicine. And if it doesn't fit their traditional sense of medicine then we must not believe it.

Q: Phillip Landrigen investigated Agent Orange. Doesn't that give him some credentials?

A: Let me back up a second and say to you, Yes, when you mention Agent Orange I think, Yes, there is a story about Agent Orange, and we knew that it harmed our troops and we knew how long it was to get the medical community to accept that, the military to accept it, the VA to accept it. And yet we know our troops suffered tremendously from Agent Orange.

Q: The criticism is that a committee like the PAC is charged with investigating this subject. They come up with a conclusion and then 90-odd Congressmen write a letter asking them to change it because they don't like it.

A: I don't care if they change it. They're somewhat irrelevant to me because they were willing to believe information from the DOD and the VA that simple wasn't true. They were willing to believe that there was no chemical exposure. They were willing to believe that low level exposure doesn't lead to bad health. And yet we know in the workplace it does, so why shouldn't it in a war place? They were willing to believe too many things that ultimately would blew[sic] up in their faces, and yet they're still sticking to their same story.

That's why I've lost some patience. Why do they give credibility to the DOD when the DOD knew information in 1991, the CIA knew information in 1991. Why haven't they been outspoken that the FDA allowed the DOD to use an experimental drug on hundreds of thousands of our troops and the FDA never required the DOD to keep proper recordkeeping, and allowed them to get away with this. Wouldn't you begin to be a little suspect of the information that's going to them, and wouldn't you begin to think they'd question it?

Q: They've obviously considered a wide range of studies in drawing up their report. Are you saying you really reject that conclusion.

A: Yes. I guess it's kind of like the scientists when Galileo said that maybe the planets went around the sun, but they didn't accept it. And I guess I kind of feel we're in that kind of circumstance.

Q: It's kind of convenient isn't it? Because they don't agree with your view you're rejecting them?

A: I'm rejecting the fact that they're discounting what our soldiers know to be true. I'd like people to listen to our soldiers. They were there. They heard the alarms go off. They tasted the substance in the air. They spit up blood. They had rashes on their bodies. They got sick. And it happened during the war, while it was going on. Wouldn't you begin to wonder when the DOD says, Well, all the record keeping that would document what our soldiers are saying is true is lost?

Wouldn't it concern you when soldiers are willing, under oath, to say that they had records and they were ordered to destroy certain records. Wouldn't you begin to say, Well maybe I should question the DOD. Well, we started to question the DOD expecting them to have answers, and it just got worse. Would you begin to suspect the DOD when, at 12:00 o'clock on a Friday they announce they are going to have an important press conference at 4:00 o'clock on Friday, that acknowledges our troops were exposed to chemicals? Wouldn't you begin to say it's unreasonable that chemicals that we blew up and biological -- only went in the opposite direction and that none of them went toward the troops, and then later on we find that the plumes went toward our troops, and they had to acknowledge it only because we persisted? Wouldn't you begin to question them? So, I don't know if it's convenience, it's just based on the testimony that's come before my committee.

Q: Do we need another scientific panel?

A: I believe we need a scientific panel that's not part of the VA, not part of the DOD. I believe we need to take this away from the DOD. I believe we need to take this from the VA. And I believe we need to have doctors who are experienced and have expertise in chemical exposure.

Q: But the PAC was supposed to be an independent panel. That was the idea wasn't it?

A: It was an independent panel but not of the kind of experts that we need to get at chemical exposure.

 

 
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