Friday, February 26, 2010

Shinseki's "new stance" on Gulf War Illness

Jim Mitchell/Editorial Writer Bio E-mail  | Suggest a blog topic

(Dallas, Tx. – Dallas Morning News Editorial) - It's never easy to read the intent of the Department of Veterans Affairs, especially when they're talking about "Gulf War illness."

However, this mention from VA secretary Eric Shinseki caught my eye. He's promising a "fresh. bold look" to help vets who complain of Gulf war illness. This supposedly includes training clinic staffers who work with Gulf War vets to make sure that they simply don't tell vets that their symptoms are imaginary. That happened to Viet Nam vets and to Gulf War vets.

"I'm also asking the question, how do we ensure that 20 years from now, that future secretary isn't answering questions about PTSD or TBI, sort of the signature injuries of this war, in the same way that I'm having to look back and try to address these issues," he said.

How this squares with the VA's decision to cut research ties with the UT Southwestern Medical Center is beyond me. Yes, it's good to remove red tape, but shouldn't we also be interested in what might have happened to these guys on the battlefield, which was a focus of the UTSW study. The VA has suggested that it will pursue answers, just not with UTSW. But in addition to research expertise, UTSW had a measure of independence that gave it credibility.

It seems to me that until the key question is answered, treatment will be mostly hit-and-miss and probably marginally effective at best. I'm not sure that moving along the paperwork -- while better than letting it languish in an administrative pit -- gives vets what they need.

A lot of what Shinseki is saying depends on whether vets trust the VA as their ally and continue to see it as an agency primed to deny expensive disability claims. We'll see.

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