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PANEL FINDS NO 1 CAUSE OF AILMENTS

SHARE PANEL FINDS NO 1 CAUSE OF AILMENTS

A scientific panel says it can find no single answer to the riddle of sick Persian Gulf War veterans, dealing another setback to those awaiting treatment for their maladies.

The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments tempered the bad news with assurances that all veterans will have access to medical care."This administration does believe these veterans are sick. Their symptoms are real and they do need our care," VA Deputy Secretary Hershel Gober said Thursday.

The Pentagon also announced it was declassifying thousands of pages of documents pertaining to the 1991 war, another move to show skeptical veterans groups and lawmakers that it is cooperating fully in the investigation of so-called Persian Gulf syndrome.

The Defense Science Board Task Force on Persian Gulf War Health Effects, which was commissioned last February, concluded it could not find sufficient evidence of any single factor that might be causing the wide range of illnesses brought home by veterans.

"There was nothing that we could pin down," said Dr. Joshua Lederberg, chairman of the task force and a Nobel Prize winner in medicine. That was in spite of "many of us on the panel who would have been eager to find evidence for new disease."

Studies by the National Institutes of Health and others also have failed to discover a specific cause of the illnesses.

The report said there was no scientific or medical evidence that biological or chemical weapons were used during the war. Lederberg said it also appeared unlikely that any pollutants released into the atmosphere by the allied bombing of Iraqi military plants could have affected troops.

Veterans contend they were exposed to chemical and biological agents, and also suggest that oil fumes, environmental pollutants and medication they took to protect them against biological warfare may have made them ill.

Common symptoms are fatigue, muscle pain, skin rashes, heart and respiratory problems and tumors. Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch urged sick veterans to call a toll-free number, 1-800-796-9699, to arrange medical exams.