Thursday, September 30, 2010

President Expected to Sign New Gulf War Legislation, but What Does it Really Mean for Ill Gulf War Veterans?

UPDATED 2:02 P.M. CT, 09/30/2010

Written by Anthony Hardie

( – The annual veterans benefits bill passed by Congress this week and sent to the President for his expected signature contained measures of particular interest to Gulf War veterans.

In the Senate summary of the bill, it sounds promising on its face:

Section 805: National Academies review of best treatments for chronic multisymptom illness in Persian Gulf War veterans.

  • Would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into an agreement with the National Academies Institute of Medicine to carry out a comprehensive review of best treatment practices for chronic multisymptom illness in Persian Gulf War veterans and develop a plan for dissemination of best practices throughout VA.
  • Under such an agreement, would require the Institute of Medicine to convene a group of experts in chronic multisymptom illness in Gulf war veterans.
  • Would require the Institute of Medicine to submit a report, including legislative and administrative recommendations, to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate and House of Representatives no later than December 31, 2012.
  • VA would be required to fund the Institute of Medicine review.

Section 806: Extension and modification of National  Academy of Sciences reviews and evaluations on illness and service in Persian Gulf War and Post 9/11 Global Operations Theaters.

  • Would extend the review and evaluation of chronic multisymptom illness in Persian Gulf War veterans by the National Academy of Sciences to October 1, 2015.
  • Would direct the National Academy of Sciences to disaggregate the data for theaters of operation before and after September 11, 2001, and to compile two separate reports, one pre- and one-post September 11.
  • Would extend the sunset for this report provision to October 1, 2018.

It’s great that Congress has gotten the message that the primary focus for the IOM-estimated 250,000 veterans of the 1991 Gulf War still suffering from chronic multi-symptom illness related to hazardous agent exposures two decades ago is about finding effective treatments.

However, it is unclear how that the IOM will carry out its mission.  Typically, the IOM has reviewed existing research already concluded, published, and peer-reviewed.  Since there focus on treatments for GWI is relatively new, IOM won’t be finding much if that’s the method they will pursue.

What needs to be developed is a comprehensive research program to develop effective treatments.  And, like Gulf War veterans have been saying for years, those treatments need to be based on the outcomes of known Gulf War toxic exposures.

Congress should be applauded for including a measure that is clearly focused on treatments rather than “stress” or trying to determine if Gulf War veterans are really sick – we are.  Our disability payments probably cost the taxpayers far more than if the federal government had honed in on treatments in the first place rather than denial.

However, it remains to be seen if this new legislation will actually produce something meaningful to improve the health and lives of ill Gulf War veterans, or simply summarize what we already know:  effective treatments for the underlying GWI issues do not yet exist, so the distant second best effort remains to put pharmaceutical band-aids on the dozens of individual symptoms of a terrible and insidious ailment.

A detailed summary of the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010 is available here: LINK

The full text of the bill sent to the President, is available here: LINK


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