Friday, June 1, 2012

House Passes VA Budget with two-thirds GWI research cut intact but Urges VA to Prioritize Gulf War Syndrome Gastrointestinal Disorders, Burn Pits Research

Written by Anthony Hardie,

( - The Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives yesterday passed a VA appropriations bill by a vote of 407-12 that mirrors the Administration's $582,674,000 request for prosthetics and other medical research.

The funding falls far short of the $611 million recommended in The Independent Budget by AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), four of the nation's largest and most influential veterans service organizations.  Along with nearly 60 other veterans, health, and other advocacy organizations, the four make annual recommendations independent of VA, as their budget document's title implies, usually at amounts substantially larger than what VA requests.  

Several of the veterans service organizations have sharply criticized the Administration's low-balled research budget.  An amendment proposed by Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) that would have increased the medical research funding by the amount recommended in The Independent Budget, $28.3 million, failed along party lines by a vote of 188-230.

Of potential impact on the one-third of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War afflicted by Gulf War Illness, a debilitating, chronic multi-symptom illness, a House Appropriations Committee report accompanying the bill specifically urged VA to to prioritize research on functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) and Gulf War syndrome.

Gastrointestinal disorders and Gulf War syndrome- The Institute of Medicine (IOM) identified a link between Gulf War service and the development of functional gastrointestinal disorders in its 2010 report on Gulf War service and health. These disorders can be painful and debilitating for veterans, and the Committee urges VA to prioritize this important research area. (1)

However, neither the Committee nor the full House added funding to the VA's Gulf War Illness research budget, which was quietly recommended for a two-thirds cut by VA officials.  The House bill appears to have retained the unprecedented cut.

The House had strong words for the VA regarding the respiratory effects of exposure to burn pits, which are quickly becoming another signature injury for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an area long left under-researched by VA for earlier eras of veterans.  

Respiratory exposures/burn pits.—There is a reported increase in
respiratory conditions such as atypical pneumonias, asthma and
bronchiolitis among military personnel who were exposed to burn
pits, increased particulate matter and other potential hazards
while serving in Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. The Committee
notes the research recommendations in the IOM report entitled
‘‘Long-Term Health Consequences of Exposure to Burn Pits in Iraq
and Afghanistan’’ and encourages the Department to allocate the
resources needed to address the key research questions identified
by the IOM report. (1)
The FY13 Defense appropriations bill remains stalled in the House.  The House Appropriations Committee included $10 million in funding for the treatment focused, peer reviewed Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.  

While the recommended funding was the same as the previous year, Gulf War veteran advocates have sought an increase to $25 million to pay for three cutting edge, interdisciplinary, inter-institutional consortia developed with earlier funding and to offset the two-thirds cut to the VA's GWI medical research budget.  

Earlier this year, nearly 60 Democratic members of the House joined perennial lead author Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Oh.) in calling for the funding to be increased to $25 million. Six Republican members, including House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) joined Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) in calling for the program to be continued at "adequate" levels.  

It remains to be seen whether a House champion can be found to lead an amendment to the House bill that would add the much needed GWI medical research funds.


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