Saturday, January 19, 2013

VA Again Blocks Gulf War Research Committee Meeting

( - The February 4-5, 2013 meeting of the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC) will not take place in Washington, DC as scheduled due to VA bureaucracy bungling the travel approval -- again.

The RAC’s February 2013 meeting was a meeting rescheduled from early December 2012, postponed due to VA’s inability to meet its own internal new VA travel requirements. 

VA has an extensive history of ignoring ill Gulf War veterans, RAC recommendations, and federal laws related to Gulf War veterans. 

Gulf War veterans were victorious in seeing the requirement for the public committee included in landmark 1998 Gulf War legislation.  However, the victory was only short lived as the January 1, 1999 statutory deadline to form the RAC came and went without VA implementation. 

Finally, more than three years late, VA Secretary Tony Principi appointed the first RAC members in 2002, including expert scientists and Gulf War veteran leaders.   The RAC held its first meeting in April of that year – fully public as has been the Committee’s tradition.

The RAC issued landmark reports in 2004 and 2008.  Yet, few of the RAC’s recommendations have ever been implemented by VA. 

In 2012, after an exhaustive, year-long, consensus-based process involving dozens of prominent Gulf War Illness researchers from inside and outside the VA, the RAC and the VA’s National Research Advisory Council (NRAC) completed a Gulf War Illness Research Strategic Plan, only to later see the report unilaterally whitewashed by VA, including removal of all mention of Gulf War Illness, including from the report’s title. 

An entire section of the strategic plan was dedicated to the development of an expanded case definition for Gulf War Illness, primarily of use by medical researchers.  However, even this standard, non-controversial development was ignored by VA when it was discovered by a watchful Gulf War veteran that VA was pursuing a sole-source contract with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to perform a literature review to develop a new case definition – without any public announcement, discussion, or input and in complete contravention to the RAC-NRAC Strategic Plan. 

Following the RAC’s June 2012 meeting, the Committee issued a report highlighting many new and highly troubling VA failures with regards to Gulf War veterans.  The Committee, in approving its June 19, 2012 report, had a unanimous “No Confidence” finding with regards to VA’s handling of Gulf War Illness research.  Among the many findings is VA’s ongoing failure to follow a 2008 law directing VA to contract with the Institute of Medicine to determine the prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in Gulf War and later veterans. 

Consistent with past performance, VA has yet to implement the recommendations called for in the RAC's June 19th report. 

And, the RAC has not been allowed by VA to meet since then.  

Despite some early signs of progress under Secretary Eric Shinseki, VA is clearly and yet again not serious about making good with disabled and suffering Gulf War veterans.  

In more than two decades since the 1991 Gulf War, VA has yet to implement a single proven effective treatment for Gulf War Illness.  

The next regular public RAC meeting remains scheduled for June 18-19, 2013, in Boston.   That is, of course, if VA can reorient itself to legitimacy, and refrain from further impeding the RAC continuing to fulfill its charter.  

The RAC website notes that it will hold a teleconference on February 4, expected to discuss committee matters.   

-Anthony Hardie,

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