VA Sets Aside Millions for

Studies on Gulf War Ailment

The Department of Veterans Affairs said that it will no longer pay for studies that seek to show stress is the primary cause of mysterious ailments afflicting thousands of veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

For years, the government has pointed to stress as the likely reason for the sicknesses. But Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi scheduled a news conference to announce that the VA will set aside as much as $15 million for a year of Gulf War illness research, with the stipulation the money not pay for studies that propose stress as the only explanation for the ailments, said Stephan Fihn, the VA's acting chief research and development officer.

Principi's decision comes as a result of a report issued yesterday by an advisory committee he appointed.

Gulf War veterans have experienced undiagnosed illnesses with symptoms such as chronic fatigue, loss of muscle control, diarrhea, migraines, dizziness, memory problems and loss of balance.

U.S. Urges Netherlands

To Keep Forces in Iraq

The State Department said it is encouraging the Dutch government to continue contributing to Iraq's security beyond the scheduled March 15 departure date for Dutch troops.

Dutch officials reaffirmed yesterday that they are standing by that date for the withdrawal of the country's troops in Iraq. At present, there are an estimated 1,300 there.

"We certainly would encourage them to consider how to continue their contribution to the effort in Iraq, through NATO or with their direct deployment," State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said.

He added that all countries with troops in Iraq should link their withdrawal plans to Iraqi needs rather than to dates on the calendar.

Pentagon Makes Advances

In Missile Defense System

A Boeing Co.-led team has successfully fired for the first time a powerful laser meant to fly aboard a modified 747 as part of a U.S. ballistic missile defense shield, officials said.

The test, dubbed "First Light," lasted only a fraction of a second but gave the project an important boost at a time it was deemed at risk of cuts or cancellation.

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency described the event -- carried out Wednesday in a 747 fuselage on the ground at Edwards Air Force Base in California -- as a "landmark achievement" for the airborne laser system.

Meanwhile, the MDA completed installation of the initial round of ballistic missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, military officials.

The sixth 55-foot rocket was placed inside a silo on Thursday, after days of delay because of wind.

The multibillion-dollar system is still being tested, with activation expected by year's end.

-- From News Services