Saturday, August 18, 2012

Newsmax + Commentary: VA Accused of Spinning Gulf War Veterans' Health

Today's Newsmax The Wire features a story appropriately criticizing VA for delivering "spin" rather than fixing serious issues related to Gulf War Illness.  The story features a series of quotes from (and one paragraph mistakenly attributed to) me, as well as from fellow Gulf War veteran and RAC member Marguerite Knox.  

The gist of the story is the inappropriateness of VA's "spin" response rather than addressing the many serious issues raised by the RAC in the RAC's serious, thoughtful, carefully documented June 19, 2012 report.  Credit for the report goes to RAC Chair Jim Binns and all involved for the myriad efforts involved in creating this important work that highlights real issues affecting real Gulf War veterans with a real illness and that require real solutions -- not spin.

Just to be clear, those who know me know I've worked hard over many years to try to be credible, factual, non-inflammatory, reasonable, yet unrelenting in a push for GWI treatments and fixing other serious issues affecting us Gulf War (and other) veterans. 

And those who know me or have been following things would know along with others I've also worked hard with all these recent issues for us Gulf War veterans to highlight that these problems are mainly problems with entrenched bureaucrats unchecked by VA's and DoD's leaders -- the main problem we've had all along (though to me it was much larger years ago and through the work of a lot of people who have added their voices and efforts has steadily been whittled down). To me, these most recent issues, starting with the IOM "treatments" committee issues, are these old bureaucratic forces again rearing their ugly heads and trying to turn back the clock to a time when GWI was not recognized as real, and to a time when trying to develop treatments was somehow a problem rather than the solution we should all be seeking. 

The paragraph in the article with quotes attributed to me, blasting President Obama, may seem surprising to those of you who know me. Quite candidly, it was also surprising to me, as it is unrecognizable from anything I said or would say (and contrary to my own politics) in trying to keep the focus tightly on the problematic entrenched bureaucrats who survive Administration after Administration to do wrong by Gulf War veterans (as well as veterans affected by Agent Orange, burn pits, and a host of other chemical, toxic, and hazardous military exposures). 

Just to be clear, that first paragraph attributed to me is nothing I said or implied and I have asked for this mistake to be fixed.  (The paragraph is the first one in the original article, with quotes attributed to me making sharply partisan jabs at the President I support.) This is about Obama himself only to the same extent it is also about the leadership of Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2 -- the real issue is entrenched, unaccountable bureaucrats and the continue failure to develop effective treatment to help improve the health and lives of the quarter million Gulf War veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness, along with other U.S. forces – and failures to get and keep these bureaucratic forces in check.  Call this mistake one of the hazards of dealing with news media when it's become so partisanized for one side or the other... Knowing I'm open about being an Obama supporter (obviously for reasons other than GWI issues, which this Administration has not yet fixed any more than did Bush 1, Clinton, or Bush 2), someone at Newsmax must have had fun making that paragraph of sharply anti-Obama comments falsely attributed to me. Call it taking one for the team.

We Gulf War veterans are all in this together for the long haul (an endurance race, as a fellow ill Gulf War veteran so aptly called it in a private group discussion), as Gulf War veterans fighting for justice (along with a lot of other veterans exposed to chemicals and other military health hazards), and in the fight against the real problem -- unaccountable, unchecked, entrenched bureaucrats who survive well-intentioned Administration after Administration to deny treatments and justice to Gulf War and other veterans suffering the lifelong health consequences of hazardous military exposures that are commonplace but far beyond the comfort, safety, and relative anonymity of civil service and contractor cubicles and offices.

And government leaders at every level should know that when confronted with real and serious issues, as highlighted in the consensus January draft Gulf War Illness Research Strategic Plan and June 19th RAC report, the sole proper response is to work at fixing them. Spin is never an acceptable response and betrays the trust of the American public and the veterans who fought to uphold our Constitution and way of life -- one rooted in shared sacrifice and honest efforts in shared responsibility to improve our shared land we love.



Below is a lightly edited version of the Newsmax article, minus the mistaken quotes and other "added" pieces:

NEWSMAX The Wire, Aug. 15, 2012 -- Members of a federal committee created by Congress say the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) ...  isn’t telling the truth about its treatment of America’s veterans, and the department’s latest public statements are more spin than substance.   
The VA recently issued a lengthy press release touting its alleged accomplishments regarding Gulf War Illness. 
But several members of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans (RAC) — created by Congress in 1998 to advise the VA on Gulf War health issues — say the press release is filled with misleading and inaccurate statements. Some members of RAC, which is comprised of physicians, scientists, and veterans, tell Newsmax they are outraged by the press release — and .... neglect of men and women who served in the 1990-1991 war against Iraq.  
Anthony Hardie, a Gulf War Army Special Ops veteran and RAC member since 2005, tells Newsmax... the VA "totally ignored" a RAC report released in late June that gave the department a unanimous vote of "no confidence" for its “failure to develop treatments for the estimated 250,000 veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.”  
In a landmark 2010 report, Gulf War Illness was ruled a legitimate disease — not a psychological ailment— by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a nonprofit organization that provides nonpartisan advice to decision-makers and the public.  
But the VA now seems determined to reverse that historic decision and downplay the problem, committee members say.   
Marguerite Knox, a Gulf War veteran, former member of President Clinton's Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, and member of RAC, was “disgusted” by the VA’s latest statements. “Despite the expertise of the RAC and the scientific validation of the existence of Gulf War Illness, VA bureaucrats are once again working to sabotage the truth," she said.  
Among VA claims disputed by RAC members is the assertion that its research initiatives include funding of an independent IOM review of medical research related to treatment of chronic multi-symptom illness among Gulf War Veterans that is expected to conclude in 2013. But according to Hardie: “The IOM treatments panel has thus far focused on psychological and psychosomatic issues that have long since been debunked. The panel has failed to meet the terms of its statutory mandate requiring consultation with medical practitioners experienced in treating ill Gulf War veterans.”  
According to Hardie: “The IOM treatments panel has thus far focused on psychological and psychosomatic issues that have long since been debunked. The panel has failed to meet the terms of its statutory mandate requiring consultation with medical practitioners experienced in treating ill Gulf War veterans.”   
VA also said that it is improving care and services for Gulf War veterans through initiatives outlined in its 2011 Gulf War Veterans Illness (GWVI) Task Force Report.  
But Hardie said, “We can only guess at how this clinical care model might be going, because the task force operates in total secrecy. “Meetings are not open to veterans or the public, the minutes of its monthly meetings are not made public, it has no website, and it has publicized only two reports in its multi-year existence,” he said. “This secrecy is a far cry from the openness and transparency promised by Obama and expected by affected veterans.”   
The VA also said it has led efforts to better understand and characterize Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses and to improve treatment.  But according to Hardie: “VA still has no proven effective treatments for Gulf War Illness."  
 “VA still has no proven effective treatments for Gulf War Illness."   
But rather than address this — and all the other serious issues raised last month by the RAC’s expert panel — VA instead has put out a press release that spins unaddressed failures into major achievements. “They don’t even mention that its Gulf War Veterans Illness research budget was actually slashed this year by two-thirds from $15 million to under $5 million,” Hardie said.  
When asked to comment on the criticisms, VA spokesman Mark Ballesteros told Newsmax: "VA remains committed to the health and well-being of the veterans of the Gulf War. Actions that VA has taken, and will continue to take in the future, demonstrate that we have not forgotten their service and dedication. “We will continue to provide healthcare and benefits and to invest in research to understand and treat Gulf War Veterans illnesses,” he said. 

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