Veterans to Testify About Force Health Protection

National Gulf War Resource Center press release

The Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, with oversight responsibilities for the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has scheduled a hearing entitled Protecting the Health of Deployed Forces: Lessons Learned From the Persian Gulf War

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, March 25, 2003, 2:00 p.m. in room 2247 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

The purpose of the hearing is to examine the deployment health lessons learned from the Persian Gulf War and will focus on the Department of Defense responsibility to protect and monitor the health of deployed forces, and to comply with Public Law 105-85, Sections 765, 767, and 768.

With 300,000 troops already deployed in the gulf, concern has arisen that troops had not received medical and mental-health screenings, including blood sampling, that are required by the law.

Such testing would give doctors and scientists clues to help diagnose illnesses triggered by exposure to biological or chemical weapons.

The Pentagon says it has complied with the law but Dr. Kilpatrick from the Deployment Health Support Directorate continues to make statements that blood is not being drawn because biomarkers would dissipate too rapidly to be detectable.

The NGWRC has spoken with leading scientist in the field and they disagree with Dr. Kilpatrick. It is a well-established fact that many toxin-associated biomarkers will persist (i.e the metabolites of nerve and mustard agent exposure).

However a better example which everyone can relate to is the TB Tine test. This is a test for immunity to TB. A small amount of TB antigen is introduced subcutaneously. If the person has been immunized or has had the disease a patch of inflammation develops around the test area (usually a dime-sized patch on the upper left arm). This inflammation is caused by the presence of a biomarker (in this case a TB-specific antibody).

Such antibodies persist for decades – often for the lifetime of the individual. If they did not, the tine test would not be an effective screening assay for immunization against TB. This is just one example of many of a disease-associated biomarker that persists for long time periods.

For an MD to make a statement that relevant biomarkers don’t persist is unbelievable. While it is true that some toxins are short-lived in the system, to claim that there is essentially nothing of interest left after a short time period is ill informed at a level that is appalling. Especially since lack of data collection was the reason why Gulf War Illnesses remained a mystery for so many years.

Virtually everything which the body comes in contact with affects the immune response in some way. Influences that affect the system so as to produce disease or increase its risk often produce a characteristic pattern of alterations in immune biomarkers. Analysis of these profiles may help in identification of the cause and suggest strategies for therapy.

Interestingly enough the NGWRC has learned that in 1991 blood was taken from Marines going to the Gulf War before and after the deployment. There was supposed to be a study conducted to reveal any changes in the blood.

Kenneth Hyams who now works for the Department of Veteran Affairs monitoring the deployed force was able to secure samples from a USMC cohort which (unlike those of this deployment) had blood drawn shortly before departing for the Gulf in 1990, then a second sample after getting off the plane on return from their tours.

[Editor’s note, Hyams is a retired Navy Captain and psychiatrist who worked for the Pentagon’s Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, an office widely discredited by veterans and others for failing to investigate thoroughly Gulf War veterans’ health complaints.]

Dr. Hyam’s considered these samples so precious that he withheld them from independent researchers. In fact it was explicitly stated in a Stars & Stripes article that he was planning to use the samples to evaluate mustard agent exposure.

So who is right? Dr. Kilpatrick who insists that taking blood is not necessary because relevant markers are too short-lived to be useful? Or alternatively is Hyams right?

Of course Hyams was correct – the technology for determination of mustard exposure is well established. This is why DoD gave him $700K to conduct the study.

It should be noted that the NGWRC could not find the published results of Dr. Hyams study.

We look forward to the testimony of all concerned.

Posted to the NGWRC Web 3/7/2003 9:49:51 PM

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