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Senate Report Doubts Claims Of Gulf War Syndrome Theory

By Bill McAllister
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

A Senate committee that has been highly critical of the government's treatment of Persian Gulf War veterans Tuesday will release a report that, surprisingly, questions the leading theory about "Gulf War syndrome" - that exposure to nerve gas sickened U.S. soldiers who fought Iraq.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, which has been one of the most prominent critics of the Pentagon's handling of sick Gulf War veterans, essentially agreed with the military's long-held position that chemical weapons exposure probably was not to blame for the mysterious illnesses reported by soldiers.

"There is insufficient evidence at this time to prove or disprove that there was actual low-level exposure of any troops to chemical weapon nerve agents or that any of the health effects some veterans are experiencing were caused by such exposure," the committee concludes.

Prepared after a year-long study by a special bipartisan investigation unit, the 310-page report challenges one of the most highly publicized theories about the mysterious illnesses among Gulf War veterans - a theory that led to intense criticism of the Pentagon and to the spending of millions of dollars to study the problem and treat sick veterans.

Specifically, the report casts doubt on a Pentagon estimate that upwards of 110,000 Gulf War troops inadvertently were exposed to low levels of Iraqi chemical weapons after the explosion of an Iraqi weapons cache following the end of the brief 1991 Middle East war. That estimate is far too high because the Defense Department and CIA relied on a computer model that was "fundamentally flawed" to recreate the destruction of the weapons, the panel said.

The Pentagon's initial admission in the summer of 1996 that Americans were exposed to chemical fallout at the Khamisiyah depot came after five years of insisting that there was no chemical exposure of U.S. troops during the conflict. Pentagon officials have called their belated discovery of the Khamisiyah incident a watershed event in the debate. In the months afterward, Defense officials steadily escalated the likely number of U.S. troops exposed to chemical fallout from 20,000 to 110,000.

The report said the panel could not assess any low-level chemical exposures because the Pentagon lacked "reliable detection methods" for such exposure.