Thursday, February 24, 2011

Paul Sullivan: Response to VA on New Gulf War Data Report

February 23rd, 2011

Dear John,

I am truly disappointed in the sloppy report on Gulf War veterans.

VA has abandoned too many Gulf War veterans, a clear violation of your policy, taken from the Soldier’s Creed, to “never leave a fallen comrade.” That’s about a quarter million veterans left twisting in the wind under your failed leadership.

Here’s why.

First, VA didn’t bother to contact stakeholders to prepare, review, or announce the release of the report. So much for your propaganda about working with veterans: you mislead us. If it wasn’t for the Persian Gulf Veterans Act of 1998 that I and other veterans fought hard to pass, there would be no IOM and RAC reports to counter hundreds of millions of dollars in public relations garbage spewed out by VA and DoD starting in 1991 saying Gulf War veterans were not ill, or that any conditions were only psychological.

Second, I do see some material VCS requested was in the report (such as some costs). However, the report lacks totals (for example, for healthcare costs). There are no costs for some areas (disability compensation, education, etc.). There are made-up terms with no basis in law that are very confusing (what the heck is “Pre 9/11″). Some areas need more salient data (such as combined degree of disability just for the deployed population).

If a veteran, legislator, or reporter asked the question, “how many unique Gulf War veterans have ever sought VA healthcare or filed disability claims after deployment, and how much did it all cost?”, VA can’t answer. That means VA failed the most simple question. You seem to be living in a cave, wandering out only to toss out a press release or report, yet otherwise do nothing for the 250,000 who remain ill without treatment after 20 years.

Third, the report again whitewashes history. The U.S. took offensive action to invade Iraq and Kuwait only AFTER the U.S. gave the green light to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein that the U.S. wouldn’t get involved in a border dispute. How sad, that, 20 years later, VA has treated more than one million patients from the two-decade disaster. I see VA still holds to the “quick victory, low casualty” lie first started in March 1991. The U.S. shamefully stood by while Iraqi Republican Guard troops with tanks and helicopters killed innocent civilians who were encouraged to revolt by then President George H. W. Bush. Every time our government fails to admit these failures, including the failure to care for our veterans in a timely or honest manner, then the more likely the chance our government will repeat them. You are the leaders now and you have a responsibility to set the fact straight.

I regret to say that, without increased funding for research and treatment in the tens of millions of dollars per year, plus much more involvement of Gulf War veterans, the final verdict is that VA’s Gulf War Task Force was a complete failure (but VA did put out a few pretty press releases and reports).

The only time you, as Chief of Staff, ever spoke directly with Gulf War veteran leaders on policy matters, you failed to respond, as you promised. At the top of our list was depleted uranium research. As of today, VA has done nothing substantive in this area. That’s disgraceful.

While VA may be dramatically improving in some areas, especially billions of dollars in new funding advocated by VCS, Gulf War illness remains your greatest continuing significant failure. And there appears to be no relief in sight. VCS and other groups are left to use FOIA to obtain information VA refuses to otherwise release voluntarily. And even when we do submit FOIAs, VA refuses to respond.

VA’s new leaders have had two years to clean up the Gulf War illness mess you inherited; too bad VA only made it worse. Shame on VA.

Best, Paul.

Paul Sullivan
Executive Director
Veterans for Common Sense
900 Second Street, NE
Suite 216
Washington, DC 20013
(202) 558-4553

“Please assist our veterans today.”

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