Pentagon's effort doesn't mollify critics
No answers regarding Gulf War illness
October 31, 1997
Web posted at: 9:31 p.m. EST (0231 GMT)
From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Despite a multi-million dollar effort to get to the bottom of the mystery of illnesses reported by Gulf War veterans, the Pentagon's initial handling of the controversy has led to continuing criticism.
The military is accused of failing to aggressively investigate the complaints of veterans who suspected their illnesses might be connected to exposure to chemical weapons in the Persian Gulf.
And though the military has subsequently spent tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to reclaim its credibility and reassure veterans, it has so far failed at both.
It was only this year that Pentagon officials admitted that 100,000 troops were exposed to minute amounts of nerve gas. A report issued by a committee led by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, called the Pentagon's efforts "irreparably flawed," hobbled by "institutional inertia" and "arrogant incuriosity."
"The (Veterans Administration and Department of Defense) and the bureaucracies in general still have a tin ear and a very cold heart and a very closed mind," Shays said.
An independent White House panel also faulted the Pentagon's credibility. Both panels recommended that the Pentagon be stripped of its lead role in the probe.
Under the weight of criticism, the Pentagon has increased its spending 30-fold on the investigation into Gulf War illness -- from just over a million dollars in 1995 to more than $35 million this year.
Add in money for 90 medical research projects and the 1997 total is more than $62 million.
"I think that if you look at that, you'll see that there's been a dramatic increase in the amount of time and energy that's been put into this project," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. But he conceded that the military is still not any closer to solving the mystery.
Indeed, much of the money has gone for Pentagon investigations aimed at mollifying suspicious veterans and congressional critics.
One example: An exhaustive, unsuccessful search to find missing log pages from the headquarters of Operation Desert Storm commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
The military also declassified reams of documents and placed them on the Internet, but so far all they have confirmed conclusively is the extent of the Pentagon's poor record keeping.
"The irony is that the (Department of Defense) can find documents that prove their case ... but can't find documents that would prove the arguments of the veterans," said Shays.