WASHINGTON – The Defense Department and the CIA used flawed computer modeling to determine which and how many troops were exposed to chemical warfare agents (search) during the first Gulf War, the General Accounting Office (search) said Tuesday.
The Pentagon stood by its work, although it acknowledged some shortcomings in the computer modeling. It also agreed to stop performing computer models on the toxic plumes that occurred after some bombings during the war.
The Defense Department refused to accept a GAO recommendation to stop using the computer modeling data for studies on Gulf War illness (search). The investigators said the flawed computer modeling led to unreliable conclusions in Defense Department and Veterans Affairs studies that there is no association between chemical weapons exposure and rates of hospitalization and death of Gulf War veterans.
"The modeling was not flawed," the Defense Department said in a written response to the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, adding that not using the models for research would be reckless and would endanger the lives of service members.
"The data the DOD used was and is the best information available and any research that desired to use it would know the limitations of the data," the Defense Department said.
The CIA told the GAO it had not had enough time to review the report. The VA agreed not to use the computer models for future epidemiological studies (search), although it has three studies based on the model awaiting publication in journals.
Veterans of the 1991 Gulf War have suffered from illnesses they believe are linked to their service in Gulf. Among reported symptoms are chronic fatigue, diarrhea, migraines, dizziness, memory problems, loss of muscle control and loss of balance.
The GAO said that since the end of 1991 about 700,000 U.S. veterans have experienced undiagnosed illnesses. The Defense Department estimates that 101,752 service members were potentially exposed to chemical warfare agents.
Veterans and their advocates have been highly critical of previous government research, some which attributed the illnesses to stress. Some research, including studies by Dr. Robert Haley, a Dallas epidemiologist, has suggested that some of the illnesses could be attributed to soldiers' exposure to nerve gas and other toxic substances.
"Because the DOD produced this flawed modeling, it set Gulf War research back seven years at least," said Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center (search), a Gulf War veterans advocacy group.
Reports on the number of troops exposed and who they were are based a model of a vapor cloud that resulted when U.S. troops blew up munitions in a bunker and open pit at Khamisiyah, Iraq. It was later revealed that some of the weapons contained sarin and cyclosarin.
The GAO said U.S. and coalition forces bombed other Iraqi sites known or suspected to have been used for chemical warfare research, materiel, storage and production.