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VA: Errors on Deaths Skewed Study

May 3, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Veterans Affairs acknowledged Friday that it erroneously concluded that Gulf War veterans who escaped exposure to nerve gas were dying at a higher rate than those who were exposed.

A VA analysis released in February compared death rates among soldiers who were and were not exposed to nerve gas when a chemical weapons depot at Khamisiyah, in southern Iraq, was destroyed in 1991.

The study concluded that soldiers who escaped exposure were dying at a rate 10 times higher than those believed to have been exposed to low levels of toxic gas.

But the VA said Friday the findings were skewed because 1,050 deaths of exposed soldiers were not counted and an additional 563 deaths of exposed soldiers were counted as being among soldiers who escaped exposure, the VA said.

VA Secretary Anthony Principi ordered the investigation of the analysis, which had caused alarm among some veterans groups.

``In this instance, some information was released before being properly scrutinized and scientifically validated,″ Principi said in a statement.

``The bottom line is that Khamisiyah veterans have death rates similar to their non-exposed counterparts and less than half the rate of their civilian counterparts,″ Principi said.

The findings are not likely to satisfy Gulf War veterans’ groups who say the Pentagon and federal government have not been forthcoming on troop exposures to toxic substances while serving in the Persian Gulf.

``It does not matter what they say, the numbers that had been provided to the VA by DOD were wrong from the beginning,″ said Steve Robinson, director of the National Gulf War Resource Center. ``DOD provided VA with numbers that excluded people who had died.″

The Pentagon has said about 101,000 soldiers were exposed to deadly gases when the Khamisiyah weapons depot was blown up by U.S. combat engineers in March 1991. The Pentagon created computer models in 1997 to replicate the vapor cloud created after the Khamisiyah demolition. It revised the computer model in 2000, using new weather and troop location information. The new model showed a different track for the vapor cloud.

After the second model was completed, about 34,000 soldiers were told they were no longer considered exposed.

The VA’s initial analysis showed 1,011 deaths for that group. But the VA now says 563 of those deaths were mislabeled. The group’s size also was decreased to 32,627.

The initial analysis was done by Veterans Benefits Administration’s Data Management Office. Phil Budahn, a VA spokesman, said the employees of that office were not accustomed to dealing with the type of database used for the analysis.


On the Net: Veterans Affairs: http://www.va.gov

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