SUBJECT: Report of the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Persian Gulf War Health Effects
I am pleased to forward the final report of the DSB Task Force on Persian Gulf War Health Effects. In the Terms of Reference, Dr. Deutch directed the Task Force to review information regarding the possible exposure of personnel to chemical and biological weapons agents and other hazardous material during the Gulf War and its aftermath. The entire matter of unexplained illnesses reported by some Gulf War participants has become one of intense political and emotional interest, and the work of this Task Force contributes materially to the debate.
In the course of their work, the Task Force heard presentations from a wide range of scientific and medical experts from within and outside of the Department of Defense. The members reached consensus on a number of key points, the most viable one of which they found no evidence that either chemical or biological weapons were used against US service members. The report also concludes that none of the proposed etiologies have caused chronic illness on a significant scale in the absence of acute injury at initial exposure.
Another significant finding was that there is insufficient epidemiological evidence at this time to support the concept of any coherent "syndrome". Because many veterans report symptoms similar to "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: (CFS); the Task Force feels that it would be advantageous to coordinate further research on veterans' illness in this category with ongoing studies of CFS in the civilian population. While much remains unknown about the organic origin of CFS, severe stress, infection and trauma experienced during Desert Storm may well be precipitating causes. Much further work is needed to verify whether the incidence of symptoms can be associated with any specific aspects of ODS experience, or indeed is provably different among ODS veterans compared to other armed forces or the civilian population.
Despite the intense external interest in the results of the report, the Task Force confined their recommendations to actions within the purview of the Secretary of Defense. Specifically, the Task Force noted that substantial improvements are needed in pre- and post-deployment medical assessments and data handling. The report advises that while carefully controlled treatment protocols may assist in carving out specific syndromes from the broad range of symptoms noted, treatment would be managed on a case-by-case basis directed at the symptoms presented. Finally, high-tech, low-casualty campaigns in exotic places will probably continue to engender a preoccupation with residual health effects as a fact of life for the foreseeable future.
I would like to echo the Task Force's feeling that the Department must clearly enunciate its commitment to care for those that fight their country's wars. The controversy surrounding this issue will likely continue, but implementation of recommendations in this report should move the medical and scientific communities toward a more complete understanding of the problem of Gulf War veterans who are ill. I endorse the report and recommend that you forward it to the Secretary of Defense.
Paul G . Kaminski