LTG (Ret) Dale A. Vesser

Deputy Special Assistant to the

Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses

House Committee on Government Reform

Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs,

and International Relations

February 2, 2000


Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations to review with you and the members of the subcommittee the support the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses provides to the ongoing research into the potential causes of Gulf War illnesses.

As you know, the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses does not directly undertake medical research and, with a few exceptions, does not directly sponsor medical research. When the office was established, the then-Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. John White, reconfirmed the Department's policy that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs was responsible for the Department's medical programs. In that regard, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Science and Technology represent the Department on the Research Working Group of the Persian Gulf Veterans' Coordinating Board, which coordinates pertinent medical research for DoD, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services.

Over the last three years, the Office of the Special Assistant has been instrumental, however, in funding or impacting the funds of several medical research programs that, for one reason or another, were not being supported by the traditional medical research funding process. Generally speaking, these did not receive sufficiently high evaluation scores in the competitive medical review process, but had become of great concern with a significant number of Gulf War veterans. We recognize that sometimes exceptions need to be made to the competitive medical review process. Specifically, we believe that in the case of Gulf War illnesses, it is important to listen to our veterans and provide any assistance we can by researching claims to the potential cause and cure for the unexplained illnesses that are affecting many of them. Frankly, we have a credibility problem with some veterans who believe that we are not funding promising research because we either don't care about their health or that we have something to hide. In such cases, we can demonstrate that neither is the case. We owe it to our veterans to apply accepted medical research standards to determine if the theory being proposed can help either explain why veterans are ill or help in their treatment.

Let me highlight for you the projects that we have either directly funded or have been instrumental in making sure that funds were provided. This is in addition to the general work of our office. Specifically, we have funded or impacted the funding of the work of Dr. Garth Nicolson (Tests for Mycoplasma fermentans [incognitus strain] in human blood) and Dr. Robert Haley (Multi-Disciplinary Pathophysiologic Studies of Neurotoxic Gulf War Related Syndromes). We have also funded a review of the medical records of the Saudi Arabian National Guard by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the Naval Health Research Center.

As you know, we have commissioned a number of medical literature review papers prepared by the RAND Corporation. These papers are not medical research in the traditional sense, but were important to inform and direct the work of our office. These papers, case narratives, information papers, and our environmental exposure reports are available on the Internet at GulfLINK, and have been reviewed by the Presidential Special Oversight Board headed by former Senator Warren Rudman.

We also helped to coordinate for DoD funds to be provided to the Department of Veteran's Affairs program in Baltimore to monitor the health of veterans exposed to depleted uranium. I am pleased to say that the last published results for this program, and I quote, "show no evidence of adverse clinical outcomes associated with uranium exposure at this time in these individuals."

Again, thank you Mr. Chairman for giving me the opportunity to put the work of the Office of the Special Assistant into the proper context, I stand ready to answer any question you or the Subcommittee may have.

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