The Nashville Tennessean, September 16, 1997

Shift the Gulf War probe -- Veterans need faith in the system

It's time to get the Gulf War Syndrome investigation out of the Pentagon.

A special White House panel looking at the Gulf War illness issue has recommended that the investigation be moved out of the Department of Defense. The committee has sound rationale: the public doesn't trust what the Pentagon says about the matter anymore.

The issue has taken a long, meandering road. But many members of the military are still left with lingering questions and concerns. What they don't have is a great deal of trust toward the Pentagon. That's primarily because families have received a lot of mixed signals from the Defense Department.

At first, government officials said a war-related illness didn't even exist. Then it slowly began to take soldiers' complaints more seriously. But after years of debate, veterans have very little reliable information. Even if Pentagon officials are now giving the issue their sincerest efforts, veterans and the public at large lack trust in what Pentagon officials may say.

The White House panel, after looking at the issue for two years, suggests transferring the matter to another government agency, possibly even one with the power of subpoena. For certain, veterans need to know that a department with some clout to demand concise, accurate information would handle the job.

The committee has also recommended that Congress call for periodic scientific reviews of evidence related to the Gulf War illness. That seems to be the very least that could be done to monitor soldiers' health.

The Gulf War issue has lingered far too long with too few definitive answers. But that's exactly the point the presidential committee seems to be making. Veterans and their families need the truth. And they need the faith that they're being told the truth. Currently, even if they have the former, they may not have the latter.

Some Defense Department officials, to their credit, seem to understand the circumstance and welcome oversight. That's a good sign. But the issue will never fully be settled until the soldiers themselves feel confident that what they're being told can be believed. The panel's recommendation for the change is a worthy recommendation.

Return to Gulf Clippings Index ---- Return to Jim Turner's page ----