Secretary Cohen pledges to "get to the bottom of Gulf War illnesses"

WASHINGTON, March 3, 1997 (GulfLINK) - Defense Secretary William Cohen says it is his intention to "get to the bottom" of all the questions surrounding Gulf War illnesses.

In his confirmation hearing on January 22 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Gulf War illnesses issue was raised by Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, a Vietnam veteran and head of the Veterans Administration during the Carter Administration.

Cohen told of meeting recently with Bernard Rostker, the Pentagon's Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses.

Cohen said, "He feels as I do -- and the President feels -- that our first obligation is to care for those who have served...And we will get to the bottom of the facts surrounding the entire issue."

Cleland, who was just elected to the Senate last fall to replace retiring Senator Sam Nunn, told Cohen he was concerned about the "whole question of dealing fairly, honestly, openly and straightforwardly with the forces who have put themselves on the line." He noted the problem was not new but echoed down the decades- "the question of Persian Gulf illness,...the question of Agent Orange, the question of radiological experiments during World War II and thereafter."

Cleland, who lost both legs in Vietnam, said he had met privately earlier with Cohen and "I're personally committed to getting to the bottom of the question of Persian Gulf illness...and enhancing DoD's credibility."

Cleland then underscored the important role of Cohen. "I just want you to know that, as a former head of the Veterans Administration, we had to lean heavily on DoD facts and figures and data in order to come to some resolutions about questions (involving) Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. So DoD is a key player here in taking care of our nation's veterans, not just in employing them abroad. ...I know...this weighs heavily on your mind as it does on ours. So I appreciate your personal commitment to get to the bottom of the questions surrounding the Persian Gulf illness syndrome."