Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shinseki's 'State of VA' Address Includes Gulf War Illness

Written by Anthony Hardie, 91outcomes

( - October 14, 2009) - Today's "State of VA" address delivered by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric "Ric" Shinseki included key comments for Gulf War veterans.  

The speech, presented as testimony before Congress, was wide ranging, pledging transparency, openness, and doing right by veterans. 

It also included key comments related to Gulf War Illness, including implying that the claims process will improve for the 175,000 to 210,000 veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.  Shinseki also gave a warning about what will happen to current service members if the lessons of the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War are not learned:

"A transformed VA will be a high-performing 21st century department, a different organization from the one that exists today.  Beyond the next five years, we're looking for new ways of thinking and acting. 

"We are asking why, 40 years after Agent Orange was last used in Vietnam, this Secretary had to adjudicate claims for service-connected disabilities that have now been determined presumptive. 

"And why, 20 years after Desert Storm, we are still debating the debilitating effects of whatever causes Gulf War Illness.

"If we do not stay attuned to the health needs of our returning veterans, 20 or 40 years from now, some future Secretary could be adjudicating presumptive disabilities from our ongoing conflicts. 

"We must do better, and we will."

Shinseki's speech noted new presumptive conditions for Agent Orange, bringing the total to 15 according to a Stars and Stripes article

To date, VA has only named three conditions related to Gulf War illness as presumptive, including fibromyalgia (FMS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), all thought to be closely related to Gulf War Illness (GWI).  Veterans diagnosed with both FMS and CFS/ME are compensated as if the two were a single condition.  

Gulf War veterans can also be compensated for an undiagnosed multi-symptom illness described by signs and symptoms noted by a physician.  However, according to the most recent VA data, less than 4,000 Gulf War veterans have been successful in gaining service connection for undiagnosed illness.

For all veterans, including those with service in the 1991 Gulf War, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease is a presumptive condition for any period of military service, as is Multiple Sclerosis (MS) if the disease manifests no later than seven years following military service. 

Despite studies showing elevated rates of brain and testicular cancer among Gulf war veterans and anecdotal reports of high rates of sleep apnea, chronic sinusitis, and respiratory and dermatological (skin) diseases and disorders, VA has not yet identified any of these as presumptive conditions for Gulf War veterans. 

The full text of Shinseki's speech and opening comments by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair, Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), are available from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs.

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