Panel Suggests Federal Program To Aid Mysteriously Ill War Veterans
WASHINGTON-A presidential panel, warning that the government's credibility was at stake, urged the Clinton Administration Friday to seek enactment of a "permanent, statutory" program of benefits and health care for the thousands of veterans who have been stricken with mysterious ailments after serving in the Persian Gulf War.
Such a program would reassure the ailing veterans that the government intends to make good on promises to care for their undiagnosed sicknesses, the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses declared as it approved its final recommendations at a meeting in Alexandria, Virginia.
Committee members, meeting for the last time after two years of study, combined their potentially costly recommendation with warnings that they had failed to uncover any single source of the myriad of illnesses that many veterans contend were caused by their service during the brief 1991 war.
"I want to caution the veterans that we may never know what is the cause of their illnesses...There may be answers, but there may not ever be answers," said Andrea Kidd Taylor, a health policy consultant who served on the panel.
Spokesmen for the Department of Veterans Affairs and several legislators applauded the committee's recommendations. VA officials said the department had made "an implicit commitment to provide lifelong health care" to the Gulf War veterans and said it supported "the overall intent" of the recommendations.
The committee also voted to recommend that the White House strip the Defense Department of control of ongoing studies of low levels of exposures to chemical and biological warfare agents, saying the military's objectivity was in question. The committee, which has been harshly critical of the Pentagon's years of denial that U.S. troops were exposed to chemical agents during the war, had considered making such a recommendation in an earlier report but had dropped the proposal.
Friday, the committee sent its recommendations to President Clinton without debate. The call for independent review of the Pentagon research reflected what committee chair Joyce Lashof described as the continuing tension between the Defense Department and the panel. The committee did not place a price tag on the proposed program.
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