One prominent hypothesis about illnesses among Gulf War veterans is that some of the reported symptoms are the result of exposure to chemical warfare agents. During and after the Gulf War, individuals reported that they had been exposed to chemical warfare agents. To investigate these incidents, and to assess the likelihood that chemical warfare agents were present in the Gulf, the Department of Defense developed a methodology for investigation and validation based on work done by the United Nations and the international community. The criteria include:
- A detailed written record of the conditions at the site;
- Physical evidence from the site such as weapons fragments, soil, water, vegetation or human/animal tissue samples;
- A record of the chain of custody during transportation of the evidence;
- The testimony of witnesses;
- Multiple analyses; and
- A review of the evidence by experts.
While the methodology (Tab D) used to investigate suspected chemical warfare agent incidents is based on these protocols, the passage of time since the Gulf War makes it difficult to obtain certain types of documentary evidence, and physical evidence was often not collected at the time of an event. Therefore, we cannot apply a rigid template to all incidents, and each investigation must be tailored to its unique circumstances. Accordingly, we designed our methodology to provide a thorough, investigative process to define the circumstances of each incident and to determine what happened. Alarms alone are not considered to be certain evidence of chemical warfare agent presence, nor is a single observation sufficient to validate the presence of a chemical warfare agent.
After following our methodology and accumulating anecdotal, documentary, and physical evidence, by interviewing eyewitnesses and key personnel, and by analyzing the results of all available information, the investigator assesses the validity of the presence of chemical warfare agents on the battlefield. Because we do not expect to always have conclusive evidence, we have developed an assessment scale (Figure 1) ranging from Definitely Not to Definitely, with intermediate assessments of Unlikely, Indeterminate, and Likely. This assessment is tentative, based on facts available as of the date of the report publication; each case is reassessed over time based on new information and feedback.
Figure 1. Assessment of chemical warfare agent presence
The standard for making the assessment is based on common sense: Do the available facts lead a reasonable person to conclude that chemical warfare agents were or were not present? When insufficient information is available, the assessment is "Indeterminate" until more evidence can be found.
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