March 7, 1997
2:02 P.M. EST
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS CONFERENCE OF THE PRESIDENT
The East Room
I also want to talk a moment about our commitments to our Gulf War veterans. And I thank Secretary Brown and the other veterans leaders who are here, including Elaine Larson, from the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses, the leadership of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other veterans organizations, and the Persian Gulf veterans who join with us here today.
Two months ago, when I accepted the final report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses, I pledged to the committee and to all America's veterans that we would match their efforts with action. Today, I am announcing three important steps to meet that pledge and our debt to our veterans.
First, I have approved Secretary Brown's recommendation for the new regulations to extend the eligibility period for compensation for Persian Gulf veterans with undiagnosed illnesses. We aim to raise significantly the window for Gulf veterans to claim the compensation they have earned. Under current regulations, veterans with undiagnosed illnesses must prove their disabilities emerged within two years of their return from the Gulf in order to be eligible for benefits. Experience has shown that many disabled veterans have had their claims denied because they fall outside that two year time frame. The proposed new regulations would extend the time frame through the year 2001. That is 10 years after the cessation of hostilities in the Gulf War. Gulf War veterans who became ill as a result of their service should receive the compensation they deserve even if science cannot yet pinpoint the cause of their illnesses.
Second, I have accepted from the Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs a comprehensive action plan to implement the recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Committee's final report. I asked for this plan within 60 days and they delivered. The plan addresses outreach, medical and clinical issues, research, coordination, investigations, and chemical and biological weapons. It will help us to do an even better job of caring for Gulf War veterans and finding out why they're sick.
Third and finally, as the Committee recommended, I have initiated a presidential review directive process to make sure that in any future troop deployments we act on lessons learned in the Gulf to better protect the health of our service men and women and their families. We need to focus on better communication, better data, and better service.
The committee's work and a massive, intensive, ongoing review of millions of pages of documents by the Department of Defense and the CIA continues to bring new information to light, including recently released documents about possible exposure of our troops to chemical agents. The scope of the efforts is substantial. And if there is additional information, it will found and released.
We will be asking two very important questions about any such new information: First, should it change the research or health care programs we have in place to care for our veterans; and second, how will it help us to make the policy changes we need to better protect our forces in future deployments. What is most important is that we remain relentless in our search for the facts, and that as we do get new information we share it with our veterans, with Congress, and with the American people; and that we act on any information we uncover. That is what we have done and what we must continue to do. I will not stop until we done everything we can to provide the care and to find the answers for Gulf War veterans that they need and deserve.