Saturday, February 6, 2010

VVA Calls for More VA Focus on Gulf War Veterans

Vietnam Veterans of America (, whose motto is “Never again shall one generation of veterans abandon another,” joined the call at this week’s HVAC (House Veterans’ Affairs Committee) hearing on Obama Administration’s proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Testimony by Rick Weidman, VVA’s Government Relations Director, called for more research into health conditions affecting Vietnam War and post-Vietnam war veterans, including those of the 1991 Gulf War:


VVA calls for an increased outlay for Research and Development.  Traumatic Brain Injuries, or TBI, needs to be better understood for treatment to be more effective.  Other mental health issues, too, that are afflicting too many of our returning troops, need to be better understood.  Research, for which VA scientists and epidemiologists can be justifiably proud, benefit not only troops who are forever changed by their experiences in combat but the general populace as well. VVVA believes that we must become more serious about research at the VA, given that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) continues to totally ignore veterans and the long term health effects of military service. Other than one head injury study, we know of no other NIH research project that even tangentially asks about military service and uses that as a variable (and possible confounder). VVA recommends that Research & Development be provided at least $ 750 million for FY 2010 and commensurately large increases in the out years, so that over five years this activity is funded at least at the $1 Billion level.

For the first time in many years, VVA has NOT signed on to the Friends of VA Health Care & Medical Research (FOVA) although we strongly believe that there needs to be a significant increase in R&D funding. VVA did not sign on to FOVA because of a required pledge not to push for any earmarks in Research & Development funds. It would be irresponsible of VVA to sign this pledge and not seek ear marks given that we have been unable to discover ANY research programs into the long term health effects of Agent Orange and other toxins, despite repeated inquiries to the current Undersecretary for Health and the current occupant of the office of Director of Research & Development, as well as the previous two occupants of the office of Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Obviously we need ear marks for research into the environmental wounds of Vietnam, as well as into the deleterious health effects of service in other periods of time and theaters of operation, such as the first Gulf War. It would be a betrayal of our members and their families if we did not urgently seek ear marks for further research into the terrible health long term effects of exposure to the herbicides and other toxins (including pesticides, PCBs, etc.) used in Vietnam during the war.

VVA’s public testimony also called for longitudinal studies  for Vietnam War and post-Vietnam war cohorts.  Longitudinal studies are intended to monitor and measure health over a long period of time for the emergence of similar health conditions, which then might be able to be diagnosed and treated with enough time to make a difference.

This lack of such research projects is compounded by VHA’s adamant refusal to obey the law and complete the replication of the “National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study” (NVVRS) as a robust mortality and morbidity study from the only existing statistically valid random sample of Vietnam veterans in existence. Frankly, this study in needed not only to document the long term course of post traumatic stress disorder, but also to document physiological problems in this population (which we know to be many). Their refusal says a great deal about their bias and determinedly continued willful ignorance.

Mr. Chairman, VVA thanks this Committee and the Appropriations Committee for using the power of the purse in the FY 2008 and FY2009 Appropriations act to compel VA to obey the law (Public Law 106-419) and conduct the long-delayed National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study. VVA asks that you schedule a hearing and/or a Members briefing for the second half of March for VA to outline their plan as to how they are going to complete this much needed study for delivery of the final results to the Congress by April 1, 2010, as a comprehensive mortality and morbidity study of Vietnam veterans, the last large cohort of combat veterans prior to those now serving in OIF/OEF.

VVA is concerned that previous leadership at VA felt they were above the law and ignored this mandate, and were unapologetic about being scofflaws. We hope this provision will again be included in the Appropriations act and that General Shinseki will see to it that VA obeys the law and gets this done on his watch.

Further, VVA strongly urges the Congress to mandate and fund longitudinal studies to begin virtually immediately, using the exact same methodology as the NVVRS, for the following cohorts: a) Gulf War of 1991; b) Operation Iraqi Freedom; and, c) Operation Enduring Freedom.

Please take action now so that these young veterans are not placed into the same predicament Vietnam veterans find themselves today.

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