Thursday, May 21, 2009

MAY 19TH CONGRESSIONAL HEARING -- Little Change Yet for Ill Gulf War Veterans, Federal Officials

Written by Anthony Hardie, 91outcomes

( -- Army veteran Paul Sullivan of San Antonio, Texas gave perhaps the clearest answer to the question posed by Tuesday’s Congressional hearing, Gulf War Illness Research: Is Enough Being Done?

“As an ill Gulf War veteran who has worked on this issue for 17 years both inside and outside government, the answer is no,” testified Sullivan, Executive Director of Veterans for Common Sense, former Executive Director and co-founder of the National Gulf War Resource Center, and a former VA employee in VA's Data Management Office.

“In the past, we have seen service-related illnesses ignored, misunderstood, or swept under the rug,” said Subcommittee Chairman Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) in his opening statement.

Rick Weidman, a Vietnam veteran and Government Relations Director for Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), added: “In regard to Gulf War Illness, VA has known the basic outline as to what was wrong with up to 200, 000 of those who served in the Gulf for a decade. Yet they continue to drag their feet in addressing the justifiable compensation requests of these veterans, and to give them the runaround on medical care.”

Weidman, a longstanding veterans’ advocate, continued in his testimony, “One has to ask, what is wrong with this institution (VA) that it would treat the men and women who are literally its very reason for existing in such a high-handed and disrespectful manner, even in the face of consistent scientific advice and good judgment?”
Dr. Roberta White, Ph.D., who has been researching Gulf War veterans’ illnesses since 1993, stated for the record that her team found not only low rates of PTSD among ill veterans, but also “systematic relationships,” between, “self-reported exposures to pesticides and to nerve gas agents and health complaints in specific body systems.” This early research was later validated by other research efforts.

White’s team also found decreased white matter in the brains of ill Gulf War veterans, cognitive and neuropsychological deficits not explained by psychiatric diagnoses, and that ill Gulf War veterans’ health complaints remained stable and without improvement over time – no surprise to ill Gulf War veterans. White is the current scientific director of the Congressionally chartered Federal Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses.
Army veteran Jim Bunker of Topeka, Kan., courageously told the Congressional investigators in his halting voice of his current Gulf War illness symptoms, which are typical for literally tens of thousands Gulf War veterans:
  • Numbness, weakness, and/or tingling in arms and legs

  • Headaches

  • Cognitive dysfunction

  • Gastric reflux disease

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Mouth sores and skin peeling from roof of mouth

  • Skin rashes

  • Sinusitis

Later in the hearing, when federal agency officials implied there was nothing wrong with Gulf War veterans, one Congressman pointedly asked, “What about Bunker?” Bunker had become a visible symbol of what has been and continues to be wrong with between 175,000 and 210,000 veterans from among the 696,842 who served in the 1991 Gulf War.

Meanwhile, a CIA official testified regarding the 1991 Gulf War theater of operations chemical agent releases known to the agency. He failed to mention incidents known to the Pentagon or described by veterans to Congress in Congressional hearings over the past two decades, relying purely on what CIA “knew”. He showed little knowledge of ground conditions, during which chemical alarms – when used – continuously went off.

He failed to mention chemical agent releases and exposures known to veterans and some within the Pentagon at the time that occurred in al Jubayl and Ra’s al-Mishab, chemical minefields in southeastern Kuwait, blister agent releases that caused the rapid Iraqi evacuation of a unit’s bunker complex in north-eastern Kuwait, and countless others like the incident Bunker described that personally affected him.
VA, predictably, recycled old testimony from a previous Congressional hearing, suggesting that VA has done everything possible to help Gulf War veterans, who do not suffer from a “unique illness.” Predictably, Dr. Lawrence Deyton stated that VA would wait until 2010 for an Institute of Medicine (IOM) review of the November 2008 report of the Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses.
The RAC’s findings were covered in detail by Dr. Lea Steele, Ph.D., of the University of Kansas, who passionately and compassionately presented the report’s findings during the Hearing.
Steele echoed the report’s findings in her prepared testimony:

Oddly, in his testimony the Department of Defense official claimed credit for funding recent research years focused on treatments for ill Gulf War veterans – an irony given DoD’s enduring opposition to the funding as DoD officials have reportedly made clear to House Defense Appropriations staffers.

Due to powerful support from Gulf War veterans' advocates, Congress has provided annual funding to DoD anyway, and it falls under the well-run Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) based at Ft. Detrick, Maryland. The Congressional funding has been provided with clear instructions to DoD on its possible uses, with requirements to focus on treatments and prohibitions against more unneeded DoD research on stress and psychological causes for ill Gulf War veterans’ all too real array of symptom clusters.
In short, veterans and science are in full agreement that the Gulf War’s veritable toxic soup made between 175,000 and 210,000 Gulf War veterans ill with chronic, multi-symptom illness, that their illnesses have not improved over time, and that effective treatments still do not exist – in large part due to long-term failures by the federal agencies charged with caring for ensuring the well-being of these veterans.
And the federal response? CIA officials are still blindly and wrongly claiming there were few or no chemical releases that reached Gulf War troops, DoD officials are overly proud of the “lessons learned” from the Gulf War while Gulf War veterans continue to suffer, and the same low-level VA officials providing the same recycled testimony are still implying or outright stating that everything that could be done for Gulf War veterans was and is being done.
Tell that to Jim Bunker as he, like tens of thousands of other ill Gulf War veterans, struggles with walking, sleeping, and communicating.
All might be well safe with the Beltway in the Land of Washington. But all is certainly not well for the 175,000 to 210,000 Gulf War veterans who still continue to suffer the lingering, untreated outcomes of their Gulf War service.

Change is needed – desperately.

[Watch the Hearing via Multimedia Link now]

“A renewed federal research commitment is needed to identify effective treatments for Gulf War illness, improve understanding of this condition, and address other priority Gulf War health issues. Adequate funding and appropriate program management is required to achieve the critical objectives of improving the health of Gulf War veterans and preventing similar problems in future deployments. As noted by the Committee this is a national obligation, made especially urgent by the many years that Gulf War veterans have waited for answers and assistance.”

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