President Clinton on Tuesday rejected demands by veterans for an outside agency to take over the Defense Department’s investigation of Persian Gulf War illnesses and instead extended the life of a presidential advisory panel so it can keep watch over the Pentagon’s efforts.
Clinton also endorsed a proposal by Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown to allow gulf war veterans more than two years to document their ailments and still qualify for easier access to VA disability benefits. Some say their symptoms did not show up until too late.
The compromise gestures came after the presidential advisory commission, which comprises a dozen physicians and scientists, issued a report concluding that nerve gas exposure during the 1991 war was unlikely to have caused any of the ailments they are suffering.
Clinton promised a veterans’ group Tuesday that despite some shaky starts, “we will not stop until we have done all we can to care for our gulf war veterans, to find out why they are sick and to help to make them healthy” again. “We are on the right track,” he asserted.
Nevertheless, Persian Gulf veterans’ organizations were critical of the report, dismissing it as incomplete and calling for another study of the issue, possibly by a special prosecutor equipped with subpoena powers.
“We are very disappointed,” said Chris Kornkven, spokesman for the National Gulf War Resource Center, a coalition of 24 veterans’ groups. He said the panel had “done a great disservice to … veterans of the Gulf War … who claim they are sick.”