Washington (AP)- Eight Democratic senators on Thursday urged Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to spend more money on equipment to protect soldiers from biological and chemical attacks and to improve troop training for such attacks.
“We are concerned that, as thousands of active duty and reserve troops are deployed to the Persian Gulf region each week, training and preparedness for confronting the harrowing threat of chemical and biological warfare lags behind the pace of deployment,” the senators said in the letter.
Pentagon spokeswoman Barbara Goodno was uncertain if the letter had been reviewed at the Defense Department, and she declined comment. [Editor’s note: Goodno works at DoD’s Deployment Health Support office, formerly known as the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses — the office widely discredited among scientists and veterans as claiming only stress was responsible for Gulf War illnesses.]
The letter was signed by Sens. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Harry Reid of Nevada, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.
The senators said a report last year by the Army Audit Agency concluded that soldiers in most units reviewed were not proficient in operating and maintaining chemical and biological defense equipment, mostly as a result of poor training.
The lawmakers said they are concerned they may see health effects similar to those suffered by veterans of the 1991 Gulf War. Some of those veterans have reported a variety of illnesses, including chronic fatigue, memory loss, muscle and joint problems and Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The senators want Rumsfeld to provide a detailed description of steps taken to protect military personnel and private contractors from chemical or biological attacks. They also asked for details on how the Pentagon has corrected any training or equipment inadequacies.
Additionally, the senators want to know details on training of military medical personnel on how to recognize chemical and biological agents and information on the availability and condition of protective equipment.
Last month, Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi wrote Rumsfeld asking the Pentagon to track troop exposures to toxins and environmental hazards in any new war with Iraq and to share the data with Veterans Affairs.
Principi said he wanted to avoid a repeat of the controversy over health problems of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War and the inability of physicians to treat the veterans because of lack of information.
[Editor’s note: The National Academy of Sciences concluded in two published reports that the number one reason they can’t determine why so many Gulf War veterans are ill is because the Pentagon failed to keep track of who was deployed, where they were deployed, when they were deployed, and what happened to them during deployment.]