The Honorable Arlen Specter
Chairman, Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
Dear Mr. Chairman:
Thank you for providing us with an advance copy of your Special Investigation Unit's report. We appreciate the opportunity to review its findings and your recommendations, to which we will give serious consideration. Your report is a model of the Legislative and Executive branches working together for a common objective. While we disagree on some technical items, we also share a common goal - to take care of veterans. The report's acknowledgment, on page 8, of my office's positive contribution to the flow of health-risk information to veterans and the public about Gulf War events was most welcome, and I want to thank you for expressing that observation so early in the report.
There are three issues that directly relate to my office's inquiry concerning what happened during the Gulf War. They are:
The need for lessons learned; Khamisiyah; and consistency in drawing summary conclusions.
With respect to your recommendation that a "lessons learned" section be incorporated into all our reports, we began including just such a section with our annual report, released last November 1997. Because we believe, as you do, that this is an important component of our work, we included a lessons learned section in the Kuwaiti Girls School case narrative, published in March 1998, and in all subsequent case narratives. As we review previously published interim reports, we will be sure to include an assessment of the lessons learned in each one.
Please allow me to comment on the Khamisiyah chemical plume modeling. I am aware of your concern that my office may have notified too many veterans of their possible exposure to very low levels of a chemical warfare agent. I believe you and I share a similar philosophy, and that is - as you stated during your press conference - if the government is going to err, it should do so on behalf of our veterans. What separates us, perhaps, are the issues of who to notify, and the difference in results between our model and the AFTAC model.
The SIU report notes correctly that we applied the "union" of our models to our decision to notify the veterans; to do so was consistent with our policy of making sure that every veteran who may have been exposed was given the benefit of the doubt. While the application of what your report suggests - an intersection of the models rather than a union - would have resulted in the notification of fewer people, albeit with a higher degree of confidence that a given person was exposed, such an approach would have been inconsistent with accepted practices of risk communication.
If you accept our philosophy of using a union of all models, applying the AFTAC results will increase by one- to two-percent the number of veterans that may have been exposed to the low levels of chemical warfare agent released at Khamisiyah. We are currently in the peer-review process of a revised plume model, which we will use to refine our work. Concurrent with that, we will make sure the AFTAC model is also properly peer reviewed and included. When this is finished, we will incorporate our expanded time/location unit data base to notify those troops who may have been exposed.
Finally, the SIU report noted inconsistencies in our summary judgments concerning possible exposures as presented in our Case Narratives. We will review our previous work to ensure consistency and share our findings with the Presidential Special Oversight Board.
Thank you again for the dedicated effort to better serve veterans. You can be assured that we will carefully consider your recommendations. We look forward to continuing this work with your committee.
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