Gulf War Vets Home Page

Research panel calls for punishment of VA
By Suzanne Gamboa,
Associated Press Writer
November 15, 2005

WASHINGTON --Federal officials excluded recent animal studies on the effects of low doses of sarin nerve gas in deciding whether maladies Gulf War vets suffer could be related to such exposure, the head of a panel on the illnesses said Tuesday.

Excluding the studies has misdirected researchers down blind alleys and "away from paths that might have led to treatments for these debilitating diseases," said James Binns, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses.

Binns, testifying before a House subcommittee, called for Congress to "use every power at its command to investigate," remove people responsible and to punish them.

"Until they are, there will be no meaningful progress on Gulf War illnesses research to improve the lives of ill veterans," said Binns, whose panel advises VA on the direction Gulf War illness research should take.

Thousands of Gulf War veterans have experienced undiagnosed illnesses with symptoms such as chronic fatigue, loss of muscle control, diarrhea, migraines, dizziness, memory problems and loss of balance.

Texas businessman Ross Perot funded Texas research on Gulf War illness and opposes government officials who attribute the illnesses to stress.

Some veterans were exposed to sarin nerve gas while destroying weapons caches, the government has acknowledged. Sarin is fatal in heavy doses.

A 2002 study by the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute low doses of sarin had "drastic" effects on the immune systems of lab mice, said Rogene Henderson, who conducted the study. Similar effects in humans would leave them more susceptible to infectious agents, she said.

Henderson's study prompted then-VA Secretary Anthony Principi to ask the Institute of Medicine to determine whether low-dose sarin exposure could explain some of the illnesses reported by Gulf War veterans.

The institute last year found there is not enough evidence to associate the two. Based on the findings, VA decided the illnesses could not be considered connected to the veterans' Gulf War service, denying veterans automatic eligibility for compensation and health care benefits.

A Veterans Affairs official and scientists from the Institute of Medicine said 101 animal studies and many human studies were reviewed before the institute made its determination.

"It is not at all true that animal studies were ignored," said Dr. Lynn Goldman, who led the Institute of Medicine's review on exposures to low-level doses of sarin.

Samuel Potolicchio, a neurologist who served on the institute's committee, said no consistent and long-term effects were seen in the rats in the Lovelace study. He and others said more studies are needed on the issue.

But Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn, said he has become "inherently suspicious" and suggested the institute set too high a standard since no human studies have been done on low-dose sarin exposure.

"You want to see more studies. I'm going to say to you I've been hearing that for 14 years," Shays said. "By the time we are able to help them, they are going to be too old. They'll all be dead."

Shays, chairman of the House subcommittee on national security, emerging threats and international relations, authored a law regulating VA's Gulf War illness research.

Binns said veterans have seen VA "get to first base many times before" on Gulf War illness research.

"This cycle varies depending upon, frankly, how many times Ross Perot calls the Secretary of Veterans Affairs," Binns said. "If he hasn't called for a while, they seem to forget ... Gulf War illness research."