Saturday, February 6, 2010

Longtime Gulf War Health activist honored for service

Jeffrey Allen, OneWorld US

People of 2009: Paul Sullivan, for exposing the disgraceful treatment of soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan and for his work to protect civil liberties for all Americans

WASHINGTON, Feb 3 ( - Gulf War veteran Paul Sullivan has dedicated the last few years of his life to making sure Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans get the care they deserve, while also exposing the true financial and human costs of the current conflicts.

In 2009, Sullivan not only worked quietly behind the scenes to help numerous journalists break stories about the epidemic of suicides and other mental health disorders facing returned veterans, but his organization fought the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) publicly to force the release of documents demonstrating the reality of longterm health issues faced by U.S. veterans.

The Freedom of Information Act request executed by Sullivan's Veterans for Common Sense revealed that nearly 300 veterans filed new disability claims every single day in 2008. Sullivan's group posted all the documents it received from that request on its Web site for journalists and others to use to uncover the extent of damage done to U.S. soldiers in today's wars.

Paul Sullivan. © Veterans for Common Sense Paul Sullivan

With Sullivan's aid, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was able to calculate the financial cost of the war, concluding that an unprecedented $3 trillion will ultimately be spent, when the expenses incurred helping veterans cope with the traumatic stresses of war are fully counted.

Sullivan has testified before Congress seven times throughout his crusade to make the U.S. government fulfill its responsibilities to the men and women it sends into combat. In testimony in March, Sullivan noted that the VA takes six months to process each claim of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and requires onerous documentation of the cause of stress before agreeing to pay for a veteran's medical care.

As the tide of PTSD-related violence rises across the United States, institutional stigmatization of the disease remains intense, causing untold veterans to suffer in silence, Sullivan explained in a letter to new VA Secretary Erik Shinseki last January. The toll is paid in broken families, unemployment, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and suicide, Sullivan noted.

"The long-term human and social consequences from these two wars remain enormous, and much more work still needs to be done so our veterans stop falling through the cracks at VA and experiencing long delays to access healthcare and disability benefits," Sullivan wrote on the Veterans for Common Sense Web site in September. "Both wars continue undermining our domestic economic recovery and further increasing the Federal budget deficit. VA reports reveal the crisis goes far beyond the military, as the wars are impacting millions of veterans, their families, and local communities." 

* This story profiles one of's People of 2009. Meet all the honorees and tell us about the people who inspire you.

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