Wednesday, October 7, 2009

DALLAS MORNING NEWS: VA Decision Is a Step in the Wrong Direction

(Dallas, Texas - October 7, 2009) -  If the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs truly wants to find out why so many Gulf War veterans returned home with unexplained illnesses after the 1990-91 conflict, then its senior executives need to re-fund local researchers who might have the answer. 
UT-Southwestern Medical Center researcher Robert Haley has been studying sick Gulf War veterans for 15 years, the last three under a $75 million, five-year research contract with the VA until the department recently terminated the contract for procedural violations.

The VA's decision is unbelievably shortsighted, as illustrated in a front page story on Sunday by Dallas Morning News reporter Scott Parks, who documented some of the significant progress that Haley's research team of more than 200 colleagues from eight universities has made in linking Gulf War illnesses to brain damage from exposure to chemicals on the battlefield. These preliminary findings could debunk theories that veterans' memory losses, chronic pain and other symptoms are stress-related.

If the early research holds true, then Haley will have solved a nearly 20-year mystery, given veterans' hope for better treatment and perhaps even aided doctors to diagnose and treat civilians with similar symptoms of unexplained origin. If, however, the VA sticks by its decision, thenyears of diligent scientific work will go down the drain, and sadly Gulf War veterans will be no closer to an answer.

UT-Southwestern and the VA have made mistakes, such as structuring the agreement as a rigid contract instead of as a flexible traditional research grant. Shelving unique and advanced research that could change lives isn't the solution. The VA's executives should see the importance of this study and allow researchers to move to the next critical research stage – a full-scale study of 2,000 Gulf War veterans.

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