(91outcomes.blogspot.com - Wednesday, August 26, 2009) -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs today announced that it has canceled the Gulf War Illness research contract being fulfilled by Dr. Robert Haley and his research team at the University of Texas-Southwestern in Dallas.
Several versions and aspects of the story have emerged.
In its press release, VA officials cite, "persistent noncompliance and numerous performance deficiencies," in the agency's determination to cancel the contract. VA reports that the funding won't be lose, but instead will be used for an ambitious round of Gulf War illness studies.
UT-Southwestern's press release however, states a strong objection "to VA's characterization of the facts," and says its personnel were taken by surprise and had been working in good faith to meet the VA's concerns.
VA officials' credibility is undermined by the VA's press release characterization of current Gulf War illness funding -- which has developed no treatments, understanding of the underlying etiology of Gulf War illness, and provided no improvements in the lives of ill Gulf War veterans -- as "substantial support."
VA's Gulf War research portfolio has in previous years been filled with the VA's entire ALS research agenda, but little or nothing on Gulf War Illness. VA's press release cites Gulf War illnesses research at $7 million in 2008 and $4.8 million so far in 2009. By comparison, in recent years, Congress has appropriated more than $600 million for PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Additionally, in an ongoing series of Congressional hearings, existing VA and other federal research efforts have come under sharp criticism by veterans, scientists, and the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses.
The VA press release gives no clues on why that the new Administration's VA officials are characterizing VA's longstanding failures on Gulf War illness as "substantial support".
The Associated Press story, written by Suzanne Gamboa, however, sheds some light on a troubling aspect of this emerging story.
Gamboa, who has written many objective stories over the years on Gulf War veterans' health issues, implies that partisan politics are at play in the decision.
In the AP story, she notes that the contract and its funding was originally secured by Republican U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), while the contract's demise has been pushed by Democrat U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii). Partisan politics has been implicated in earlier press about this issue as well.
Ill Gulf War Veterans Lost in the Shuffle
None of the versions of this emerging story discuss why that Congress allowed the $75 million in funding in the first place -- because VA's research failures on Gulf War veterans' illnesses were widely recognized, unable to be resolved, and the solution was that funding was taken away from VA and provided to an outside entity to help ill Gulf War veterans.
And most significantly, not one of the press releases or stories mentions the 175,000 to 210,000 Gulf War veterans who remain ill long after their Gulf War service and who are depending upon the federal government to find solutions to help improve their health and lives.
What Lies Ahead?
The question now is this: Can the new Administration do a better job in leading VA to soon develop ways to improve Gulf War veterans' health and lives?
Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, between one-fourth and one-third of the remaining living Gulf War veterans -- of the 697,000 total who served in 1991 Gulf War -- are still waiting for help.
According to the Associated Press #1:
Written by Suzanne Gamboa, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Veterans Affairs has canceled a $75 million, five-year research contract with a Texas medical center studying illnesses suffered by veterans of the 1990 Gulf War.
The VA says research into the illnesses remains a priority.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka, a Democrat, has been pushing to end the sole-source contract with the University of Texas' medical center in Dallas.
Money for the contract was added to a 2005 spending bill by Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison when her party ran Congress.
Troops returned from the 1990 Persian Gulf War with chronic illnesses ranging from fatigue to Lou Gehrig's disease. Some have questioned whether soldiers' illnesses resulted from battle stress or exposures to toxic substances.
According to the Associated Press, #2:
Written by Linda Stewart Ball, Associated Press. AP writers Suzanne Gamboa in Washington, D.C., and Andre Coe in Dallas contributed to this report.
DALLAS — Citing persistent compliance and performance deficiencies, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs canceled a $75 million, five-year research contract with a Texas medical center studying illnesses suffered by veterans of the first Gulf War, officials announced Wednesday.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka, a Democrat from Hawaii, has been pushing to end the sole-source contract with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He could not be reached for comment.
The VA said research on the illnesses, however, remains a priority.
"As part of our commitment to this vital effort, we must make certain that our resources are used to support effective and productive research," Dr. Gerald M. Cross, VA's Acting Under Secretary for Health said in a statement.
Dr. Robert Haley, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center epidemiologist who has lead the research project, also could not be reached for comment.
But a University of Texas Southwestern spokesman called the VA's "unilateral decision" to cancel the contract surprising and regrettable.
"We strongly disagree with the VA's characterization of the facts related to our Gulf War research contract," said John Walls, assistant vice president for public affairs at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "We were surprised to learn of their action, especially since we have been working diligently and in good faith with the VA to resolve all areas of disagreement."
The VA listed several reasons for not renewing the contract, including UT Southwestern's failure to comply with contract terms and conditions.
The VA noted that its Office of Inspector General outlines the dispute in a July 15 report, which seemed to revolve around Haley's reluctance to give the VA the medical records of some who participated in the study. That report recommended that no further task orders be issued under the contract.
Wednesday's announcement came the same day the VA met with UT Southwestern staff to resolve some of the issues, said Tim Doke, vice president for communications, marketing and public affairs at the medical center.
Doke said UT Southwestern would like to convert its contract with the VA into a more traditional research grant, which he said was less complex.
"I think it is safe to say that we are going to continue to engage with them," Doke said.
Money for the UT Southwestern contract was added to a 2005 spending bill by Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas when the GOP had the majority in Congress.
"Southwestern has worked to comply with all the VA's contractual demands but the VA bureaucracy apparently did not reciprocate in good faith," Hutchison said in a statement. "The biggest losers are the thousands of affected Gulf War veterans who have fought the VA for years to recognize their illness as real."
Troops returned from the first Persian Gulf War with chronic illnesses ranging from fatigue to Lou Gehrig's disease. Some have questioned whether soldiers' illnesses resulted from battle stress or exposures to toxic substances.
Haley and UT Southwestern began researching Gulf War illness in 1994 at the request of Texas billionaire businessman Ross Perot, whose help was sought by about a dozen soldiers suffering from symptoms, including disabilities in their children.
A spokesman for Perot said the billionaire wouldn't comment on the contract cancellation.
Paul Sullivan, a Gulf War veteran who heads an advocacy group called Veterans Common Sense, said he wants the VA to start funding other research and treatments immediately. He also said the VA should use a new Waco facility that focuses on brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder, problems largely found in Iraq war veterans.
"We hope it can pick up Gulf War illness soon so there will be no lost time," Sullivan said. "We want to make sure Gulf War illness maintains a high profile and high priority."
An estimated 175,000 to 210,000 veterans of the first Gulf War suffer multiple symptoms that are considered Gulf War illnesses, according to VA research.
According to UT-Southwestern:
DALLAS, Aug. 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- UT Southwestern has issued the following statement in regard to today's news release by the Veterans Administration:
We regret the VA's unilateral decision to not renew the contract supporting vital research focused on veterans suffering from Gulf War syndrome being carried out by UT Southwestern investigators and their collaborators elsewhere.
We strongly disagree with the VA's characterization of the facts related to our Gulf War research contract. We were surprised to learn of their action, especially since we have been working diligently and in good faith with the VA to resolve all areas of disagreement.
We remain committed to performing research that improves the condition of those who have served our country.
This news release is available on our World Wide Web home page at http://www.blogger.com/www.utsouthwestern.edu/home/news/index.html
According to the VA:
WASHINGTON – Citing persistent noncompliance and numerous performance deficiencies, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will not exercise the third year of a five-year, $75 million contract with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSWMC) to perform research into Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (GWVI).
“Research into the illnesses suffered by Gulf War Veterans remains a priority for VA,” said Dr. Gerald M. Cross, VA’s Acting Under Secretary for Health. “As part of our commitment to this vital effort, we must make certain that our resources are used to support effective and productive research.”
VA listed several reasons for not exercising the contract option, including UTSWMC’s persistent and continuing noncompliance with contract terms and conditions and detailed documentation by the contracting officer of performance deficiencies. VA also noted that its Office of Inspector General documented severe performance deficiencies in a July 15 report and recommended that no further task orders be issued under the contract.
VA will meet with UTSWMC contract staff on today to provide guidance for completing work in progress and submitting adequate documentation to allow payment. UTSWMC will be allowed to fulfill task orders already in progress if it corrects all performance deficiencies. .
The decision not to continue the contract means VA’s research program will be able to redirect funds to support additional research into GWVI. In 2010, that research will include a genomic study to identify susceptibility factors and markers of GWVI; studies of similarities and differences with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia; studies of new diagnostic tests; identification of sub-populations of ill Gulf War Veterans; and studies of potential new treatments.
The redirected funding for these new VA research initiatives will be in addition to the substantial support VA already provides for GWVI research--$7 million in 2008 and $4.8 million so far in 2009.