NEWS RELEASE

No. 598-96
(703)695-0192(media)
(703)697-3189(copies)
Immediate Release October 22, 1996 (703)697-5737(public/industry)

DOD EXPANDS OUTREACH TO AND SEEKS HELP
FROM GULF WAR VETERANS

Deputy Secretary of Defense John P. White announced today a series of actions to reach out to and seek the help of about 20,000 Gulf War veterans who may have been near Khamisiyah, Iraq during the period March 4 - 15, 1991. These actions are being undertaken as part of the ongoing efforts, at the direction of President Clinton and Secretary of Defense Perry, to conduct a full investigation of any information that could help determine the causes of illnesses being explained by veterans of the Gulf War.

U.S. troops destroyed large quantities of Iraqi ammunition at Khamisiyah, a sprawling ammunition storage site in southern Iraq shortly after the Gulf War ended. Evidence that chemical weapons may have been among the munitions destroyed on 4 and 10 March has triggered an intensified effort on the part of DoD to reconstruct the events at that time.

Referring to the ongoing extensive investigation of the events at Khamisiyah, White stated; "The story of Khamisiyah is still incomplete. We are putting the puzzle together, and we want those who were there to help us fill in the missing pieces. Khamisiyah is a watershed event in our search for information and understanding of Gulf War illnesses. It is the first event where we can place American troops in an area where we believe chemical weapons were destroyed. To our knowledge, service members at that time did not report the symptoms associated with exposure to chemical agents, but our search for information continues. The possibility that some individuals could have been exposed at low levels has caused us to review our clinical and investigative protocols. We want to reassure our veterans that no effort will be spared in understanding Gulf War veterans illnesses, and no Gulf War veterans will be without the health care they need."

In August 1996, DoD began contacting 1,168 U.S. service members assigned to units involved in the March 4, 1991, demolition operations at the Khamisiyah bunker complex. The veterans were asked to call the DoD Persian Gulf Veterans hotline to report any medical problems they may be experiencing and provide any information they believe pertinent to this service incident. To date, the department has been able to contact more than 500 of these members by phone. The department will send certified letters to the remainder who could not be contacted by phone.

"Today as one key step in the Department's efforts, we are launching an outreach effort to about 20,000 Gulf War veterans who were within 31 miles (50 kilometers) of the Khamisiyah site from March 4 through March 15, 1991. We are going beyond the area in which there were likely to have been immediate effects from any chemical agent (nerve gas) exposure. Since there is evidence that chemical weapons were present during the demolition of a bunker and crated munitions in a pit area, we are asking for help from our people in learning more about what happened."

"At the same time we are asking for our Gulf War veterans to help, we want to assure them that we take care of our own," said White. "An aggressive health care outreach effort is being carried out to these 20,000 Gulf War veterans. For any of them who have health concerns, we are asking that they contact us or the VA so that we can give them a medical evaluation.

In addition, the department is now investigating the possibility of a detonation at the Khamisiyah complex on 12 March, two days after the demolition reported earlier. It is not known if the unit logs containing this report are accurate or, if such a demolition occurred, if chemical munitions were involved.

The department has launched an extensive research effort to understand what happened during the war, investigating incidents that may have exposed U.S. troops to chemical weapons or other unknown substances, and assessing the health of Gulf War veterans. DoD is allocating up to $15 million in new research into the possible effects of low-level exposure to chemical agents. Additionally, DoD is funding another $12 million for general research on other possible causes of Gulf War illnesses.

"We are always concerned with the health of our troops -- especially when they are deployed to unfamiliar environments where they may be exposed to chemical weapons," said White. "We will continue to investigate incidents that may have exposed our troops to chemical weapons or to unknown substances, and to assess and provide for the health of our Gulf War veterans."

(Editors Note: Additional handouts related to this topic are attached to this release.)

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UNITS WITHIN 5OKM OF KHAMISIYAH
(4-15 MARCH 91)* [20,867 personnel]

Units associated with the 82nd Airborne Division:

Units associated with the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized):

* Based on locations reported for battalion-level Unit Identification Codes (UlCs) derived from the Geographic Information System (GIS) [UIC-based personnel strengths from the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC).]

Units associated with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault):

Other Units:


October 1996

MEMORANDUM FOR PERSIAN GULF WAR VETERANS
CONCERNING KHAMISIYAH, IRAQ

The Department of Defense is continuing its wide-ranging investigation of incidents that might be related to Persian Gulf veterans' illnesses. We are asking for your help in providing us with important information.

Evidence from an ongoing investigation indicates that chemical weapons were present when U.S. forces destroyed a series of ammunition storage bunkers and crated munitions in an open pit area at a complex called "Khamisiyah" or "Tal al-Lahm," about 15 miles southeast of "An Nasiriyah" in southern Iraq. Our records show that your unit was in the vicinity of Khamisiyah during the period March 4-15, 1991.

To our knowledge, service members at that time did not report the symptoms associated with acute exposure to chemical agents (nerve gas), but our search for information continues. You will soon receive a survey as part of our effort to better understand the events surrounding the Khamisiyah demolition. We need to hear from you, not only about your experience in the vicinity of the site, but also about any health problems you think may be a result of your service during Operation Desert Storm/Operation Desert Shield. Your timely response to the survey will provide us with critical information. If you have information that you believe would be of immediate value to us pertaining to the events at Khamisiyah, please call the PERSIAN GULF INCIDENT HOTLINE at 1-800-472-6719.

If you are experiencing health problems you believe to be a result of your service in Operation Desert Storm/Operation Desert Shield and you are eligible for health benefits through the Department of Defense, please call the COMPREHENSIVE CLINICAL EVALUATION PROGRAM at 1-800-796-9699. If you are eligible for benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs system, please call the PERSIAN GULF HELPLINE at 1-800-PGW-VETS. When you call please indicate that you were near Khamisiyah on these dates. If you desire, the person answering the telephone will refer you to an appropriate medical facility for medical evaluation and care. We want to be sure you receive any health care you may need for health problems related to your service in the Gulf War.

Be assured, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are working together to bring all necessary resources to bear on this issue. But we can not do it alone. To understand the events at Khamisiyah and to address the concerns of our Gulf War veterans, we need your help in this effort.

We are indebted to each of you for your service to our country during the Persian Gulf War.

John P. White

Enclosure: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers


Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About Khamisiyah

Here are the answers to several frequently asked questions relating to the events at Khamisiyah.

Q: What kinds of weapons were destroyed by U.S. forces at Khamisiyah?

A: Khamisiyah was a large Iraqi ammunition storage site. Of the approximately 100 bunkers destroyed in March 1991, one has been assessed by UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) to have held 122mm rockets containing chemical agents (the nerve agents sarin and cyclosarin). In addition, rockets containing these nerve agents were found by UNSCOM inspectors in an open pit near the bunker complex, where U.S. forces also conducted demolition operations in March, 1991.

Q: What are the effects of these chemical weapons?

A: As you may recall from your training, chemical weapons create serious immediate symptoms (blurred vision, tightness in the chest, runny nose, dizziness) and, if immediate treatment is not provided, can incapacitate or kill troops on the battlefield. While research continues, the best current medical evidence indicates you should not experience long-term health problems from low level exposure to chemical nerve agents.

Q: Were any such symptoms experienced by our troops during the Gulf War?

A: To our knowledge, service members neither died or reported such immediate symptoms in connection with Khamisiyah. Soldiers reported possible chemical events during the war, but we have been unable to confirm any nerve agent exposure from these reports.

Q: What are the long-term health effects of non-lethal exposure to nerve agent?

A: Although they are limited in number, studies of human exposure to nerve agent suggest that no long-term health effects from low level, short-term exposure to nerve agent are likely, even when doses are large enough to produce some immediate symptoms. We are stepping up the research directed toward finding a more definitive answer to this question.

Q: If I, as a Gulf War veteran, experienced no symptoms at the time and studies indicate there are no long-term health effects, why am I receiving this letter and being asked to call the hotlines?

A: First, we are asking your help in our understanding of the events surrounding Khamisiyah. Second, we want to be sure you receive any health care you may need for health problems related to your service in the Gulf War.


GULF WAR VETERANS' ILLNESSES ADMINISTRATION EFFORTS AND LEADERSHIP

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The United States responded by sending 697,000 troops to the Persian Gulf for what became known as Operation Desert Shield. On January 16, 1991, the campaign to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, known as Operation Desert Storm, began. Following this conflict, some Gulf War veterans reported a variety of illnesses and disabilities. Veterans also reported illnesses in their spouses and children, including birth defects. The Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services have engaged in a comprehensive coordinated effort to respond to these concerns and care for our veterans. Following is a list of actions:

Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses

Coordination Efforts

External Review Efforts

Medical Care Efforts

Outreach Efforts

Benefits and Compensation Efforts

Investigation

Declassification Efforts

Force Protection Efforts

Research Efforts

Peer Reviewed Research Announcements

Major Department of Veterans Affairs Research Initiatives

Pyridostigmine Bromide (PB) Studies

Low-Level Chemical Exposure Studies

Oil Well Fire Studies

Depleted Uranium Studies

Cancer Studies

Birth Outcome Studies

Health Risk Assessment Studies


Department of Defense Persian Gulf War
Veterans' Illnesses Initiatives

  CURRENT PROGRAMS NEW INITIATIVES
Outreach Secretary of Defense and Chairman of Joint Staff sent a letter to service members. DoD has two toll-free lines dedicated to the Persian Gulf Veterans' Illnesses effort: one for the reporting of medical concerns and the other for incident reports. DoD is issuing a memo to those Gulf War Veterans who are within 50 kilometers of Khamisiyah; phone calls and letters are being sent to those individuals who participated in the demolition.
Health Care DoD established the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program to provide standardized health exams and ensure care to those who believe themselves ill as a result of their service in the Gulf. DoD has prepared its medical care system for additional evaluation and care for Persian Gulf War Veterans. DoD has requested that the Institute of Medicine review our current CCEP protocol for possible modification with respect to low-level exposure to chemical agents.
Medical Research DoD has dedicated $12 million in FY96 and $12 million in FY97 for research into the possible cause or causes of Persian Gulf Veterans' Illnesses. DoD has dedicated $15 million in new research into the possible effects of low-level exposure ($10m provided by Congress; $5m by DoD).
Investigation DoD established the Persian Gulf Investigation Team to investigate incidents and hazards that occurred during the Gulf War that might relate to illnesses experienced by our Persian Gulf War Veterans. DoD also established the Senior Level Oversight Panel, chaired by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, to review and oversee all departmental efforts on Persian Gulf Veterans' Illnesses. The Deputy Secretary of Defense directed (1) the Army Inspector General to investigate the explosion at Khamisiyah and any other possible similar incidents involving chemical or biological weapons, building on the efforts of the PGIT and (2) the Assistant to the Secretary for Intelligence Oversight to review the intelligence issues relative to Khamisiyah. (3) the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, review and make recommendations on the Department's efforts to date on Persian Gulf Veterans' Illnesses and on force protection for the future.
External Review DoD requested that the Institute of Medicine (National Academy of Sciences) review the Department's clinical and research efforts on Persian Gulf Veterans' Illnesses. The Deputy Secretary of Defense has requested a review by the National Academy of Sciences of issues around the causes of Persian Gulf Veterans' Illnesses and future force protection efforts.
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