Testimony of Congressman Sanders
I want to begin my remarks by commending Chairman Shays for his determined efforts to keep the suffering of the men and women who served this country during the Gulf War from being swept under the rug. Over the past five years, he has worked diligently to hold members of the military establishment accountable for their actions, and more importantly their inaction. He and I have worked closely for many years to try to get the congress and the administration to fund serious research into potential causes and cures for the diseases known as Gulf War Illness, and to push for compensation for those veterans who have contracted these diseases.
I am sad to say that despite our efforts we have up to this date only had limited success. The findings of the Institute of Medicine(IOM) study that we are exaiming today only serve to remind us how far we have yet to go on this issue. Some good news Chairman Shays and I worked very hard this year to secure $1.6 million in the Defense Appropriations bill for research into whether Gulf War illness is the result of multiple low toxic exposures which manifest itself as a condition known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. We will be playing an active role in making sure that this money goes for serious research in this area.
Let me start by stating how I approach this Gulf War Illness. When this country asks men and women to serve in the armed forces, and those men and women are injured,in body, mind, or spirit, the federal government has an absolute unquestionable obligations to make those people whole to the maximum medical and scientific extent possible. In addition, tederal government has an obligation to compensate those veterans fairly. And when it is clear that veterans have been injured during their service we should not deny them compensation just because we cannot say which particular exposure or combination of exposures caused that injury. In my view, on all counts, the federal government has failed and failed miserably with respect to Gulf War Illness.
Over 100,000 veterans have reported suffering from some combination of symptoms associated with this syndrome we call Gulf War Illness. Certainly, it is important that we exhaust every possible research avenue to find the cause and cure. But we should not hold up the compensation of Persian Gulf War veterans, who have very real illnesses, because we have failed--either through incompetence, insufficient resources or lack of dedication---to identify the specific toxic compound or compounds that are responsible. This is particularly true here because the Pentagon's neglience in keeping accurate records of exposures in the Gulf Theater may prevent us from ever finding a definitive answer.
As for the IOM study that we are reviewing today, I say with all due respect to the IOM that this study only confirms what most of us already knew. There is a dearth of research in peer reviewed scientific literature on the long term health effects of exposure to the various toxins that our soldiers encountered in the Gulf War theater.
As the IOM reported, the peer reviewed literature contains inadequate or insufficient information to determine whether there is an association between Gulf War Illness and exposure to depleted uranium, between Gulf War illness and pyridostigmine bromide, between Gulf War illness and low level exposure to sarin gas, between Gulf War illness and anthrax vaccination or other vaccines or combinations of vaccines. These findings do not come as a shock to me or anyone else who has followed this issue.
The reason that we do not have this research is that the federal government and , in particular, the Pentagon has failed to keep faith with the men and women who served in the Gulf. They have dragged their feet and were it not for the efforts of people like chairman shays and the Gulf War veterans themselves, the military would long ago have forgotten about this issue.
I do want to commend the IOM on their research recommendations. These track the approach that Chairman shays and I have been advocating. Instead of looking for one single toxin as the cause of Gulf War illness, we need to investigate the impact of the multiple, often low level, exposures that Gulf War veterans experienced. As the IOM reports states this may provide a more realistic approach toward understanding veterans' health issues and may provide insights for preventing illnesses in future deployments.
Finally, Mr Chairman, I want to express my concern that there is still not the will within the military to get to the bottom of this very real health emergency. In my view, it is time for the military to make available to properly cleared independent researchers the information the Pentagon now has in classified form so that we can get a better understanding of what biological and chemical exposures our veterans encountered in the Gulf and the levels of those exposures. If the Pentagon is unwilling to cooperate, I that perhaps it is time for Congress to intervene. Furthermore, while we continue to move forward on serious research, I believe that on public policy grounds we should legislatively provide for a service-connected presumption for those suffering from Gulf War Illness.