Friday, March 29, 2013

Jamaica Plain Gazette: Gulf War Biorepository Launched at VA-Jamaica Plains, NY

SOURCE:  Jamaica Plain (NY) Gazette

Gulf War syndrome study launched at VA hospital

March 29, 2013

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced the launch of a Gulf War syndrome study that will take place at the VA Medical Center at 150 S. Huntington Ave, according to a press release.

The Gulf War Veteran’s Illnesses Biorepository (GWVIB) will support research on the causes, progression and treatment of disorders affecting veterans of the war. Biorepositories store human fluid and tissue samples.

The study plans to follow the health of participants over their lifetime. Donated brains and other body tissue of deceased veterans, along with the health information collected over their lifetime, will provide information to use in the research of illnesses affecting veterans.

“Hundreds of thousands of ill veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War depend on cutting-edge biomedical research to better understand and treat these illnesses, and providing crucial tissue and health information to researchers will be a vital resource for this research,” said Dr. Neil Kowal, a lead researcher, according to the press release.

About 697,000 people fought in the first Gulf War with nearly 250,000 returning veterans experiencing chronic, medically unexplained illnesses known as Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses or Gulf War syndrome.
For more information, visit or call 855-561-7827.

Latest High-Level VA Departure: VA's Research Chief

( - The latest high-level departure from the embattled U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VA's research chief, Dr. Joel Kupersmith, was made public today.

Kupersmith, a medical doctor and longstanding head of the VA's Office of Research and Development (ORD), publicly announced his departure in an email this afternoon (below), which notes his signature accomplishments including a massive genomics repository.

Kupersmith's announcement marks the latest high level departure from VA.  Earlier this week, news broke of the imminent retirement of VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich, a Gulf War veteran.

Two weeks ago, VA came under heavy fire at a contentions Congressional investigative hearing filled with weighty accusations by an ex-employee whistleblower and others testifying of VA staff mismanagement, misdirection, obfuscation, and lying related to Gulf War Illness and other post-deployment research.  ( "Whistleblower Accuces Government of Neglecting Suicidal Veterans And Suppressing Science)

In response to those allegations, VA launched an internal investigation by the Office of Research Oversight, a statutorily authorized investigative unit.  91outcomes broke that news earlier this week.

While most of the recent allegations involved VA's Office of Public Health rather than the research office overseen by Kupersmith, a scathing June 19, 2012 report by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Health (RAC) announced a finding of, "no confidence", in VA for the agency's failure to, “mount even a minimally effective program, while promoting the scientifically discredited view that 1991 Gulf War veterans have no special health problem as a result of their service.” 

VA has been under mounting national criticism, most notably for its failure to remediate a worsening claims backlog and other serious issues affecting hundreds of thousands of veterans.

-Anthony Hardie  

Text of the Email:

From: Kupersmith, Joel (SES EQV) []
Sent: Friday, March 29, 2013 12:09 PM

Dear Colleagues,
After two terms, I will be stepping down in May from my position as the Chief Research and Development Officer (CRADO) in the Veterans Health Administration.   It has been my distinct privilege to lead VA research these past eight years, and with the help of so many wonderful people within and outside of the VA, the program has thrived. VA Research has grown substantially with numerous breakthrough research projects, the introduction of many administrative improvements, and the development of   new methods of conducting research and health care delivery. With the partnership of many colleagues in the academic, medical, and research community, the VA Research program today is at new levels of collaboration with NIH, DoD, and other federal, academic, and industry partners. We’ve made many great strides together; from a component of  our research program winning  the prestigious Baldrige Award in 2010 to one of our signature accomplishments—the Million Veteran Program—now on its way to becoming the largest genomic repository.
I am honored to have served VA and to have enjoyed the longest tenure of a VA CRADO.  It has been a great run and I have many people to thank.   One of the most enjoyable aspects has been visiting our medical centers nationwide and witnessing first-hand the life-changing improvements that are being conducted under VA Research. I commend all of you for your dedication and high caliber work to improve the lives of Veterans.
I look forward to new opportunities and challenges.

Joel Kupersmith, M.D.
Chief Research and Development Officer
Veterans Health Administration

Thursday, March 28, 2013

SVAC Calls for Greater Pentagon, VA Cooperation on Claims Backlog

Source: Press Release, U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Senators Call for Greater Pentagon, VA Cooperation on Claims Backlog

WASHINGTON, March 25 – The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs  [SVAC] today urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to help the Department of Veterans Affairs curb a growing backlog of claims for disability benefits.

The letter from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate panel, spoke of “the absolute need for continued collaboration, cooperation and commitment between these two agencies.” 

All of the other members of the committee also signed the letter, including Sens. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

Veterans receive disability compensation for injuries or illness incurred during their active military service. As of this month, more than 600,000 claims have been pending for more than 125 days and are considered backlogged.

The senators said the Pentagon has an “increasingly vital” role to play in VA’s effort to transform the compensation claims process. They called the backlog “one of the largest challenges confronting the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

They praised a recent agreement to speed the delivery of Department of Defense documents to the VA on the treatment of service-related injuries. They also encouraged a planned switch from paper to digital records by the end of this year.

“We look forward to working together to ensure that the brave men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our country receive the benefits that they undoubtedly earned and deserve,” the letter said.

To read the letter, click here.

URGENT ACTION ALERT: Contact Congress Now to Fund Gulf War Illness Treatment Development Program for One More Year

( - The annual push for Gulf War Illness treatment medical research funding has again begun, with the usual short initial deadline.  Calls, emails, and faxes are needed immediately to ensure this unique, unparalleled, critically important annual program continues next year.  

The deadline is Friday, April 5, 2013 for Members of the U.S. House of Representatives to sign on to a "Dear Colleague" request to fund the Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) for another year.  This year's effort is being led by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME).  The text of the letter is here.  

Specifically, the push is to ask Members of the U.S. House of Representatives to sign onto the "Roe-Michaud Dear Colleague Letter" for FY14 Gulf War Illness CDMRP funding.  

The GWI CDMRP has again been in the national news recently as a program that is working.  

  • One CDMRP-funded researcher, Dr. James Baraniuk of Georgetown University, has found additional, objective markers of brain damage in Gulf War Illness patients.  
  • And Dr. Beatrice Golomb, whose CDMRP-funded research found that CoQ10 can help relieve pain and some other Gulf War Illness symptoms, continues not only with additional CDMRP-funded research, but is one more of this growing chorus of scientists and clinicians who, despite ongoing VA mismanagement, delays, denials, and obfuscation, recognize and are working towards the goal that effective Gulf War Illness treatments can likely be found. 
  • And, even more GWI CDMRP research highlights are on the CDMRP website.

This year's GWI CDMRP funding push is unusual in that it comes just a few days after FY13 funding was finally approved.  Last April, the initial request for funding was led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who is no longer in Congress, and Rep. Phil Roe, M.D., who is again co-leading this year's effort.  The effort received a significant boost with the support of House Veterans' Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chair Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL).  

During last April's effort, $10 million was approved through the initial House appropriations process. An additional $10 million, for a total of $20 million, was approved by a Kucinich-led amendment when the full appropriations bill came to the House floor.  That early $20 million level proved to be key, as it was sustained throughout the duration of an arduous appropriations process that only just concluded a few days ago.

"The effort was successful because countless Gulf War veterans and other advocates contacted their Members of Congress to ask that they sign on in support."

Last December, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME), Ranking Member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and co-leader of this year's GWI CDMRP funding effort, reacted to the release of two new studies by Dr. Robert Haley and Jim Tuite that found strong links between Gulf War chemical exposure and Gulf War Illness.

"The announcement of [Haley and Tuite's] findings is encouraging news to the veterans who have endured over 20 years of inconclusive research into Gulf War Illness and ineffective treatments," said Michaud. "These studies provide critical new insights and represent a light at the end of a long tunnel for those who served in the Gulf War. Moving forward, our priority must be making sure veterans that were exposed get the care and benefits they deserve. I look forward to working with Chairman Miller and the VA toward this goal."
Following the abrupt 2009 VA cancellation of funding for Dr. Haley's unique Gulf War Illness research projects, an action that deeply angered engaged Gulf War veterans, some of Haley's team's projects have also found funding through the GWI CDMRP.  

These are but a few of many examples that there is no shortage of talented medical researchers who stand ready, willing and able to help achieve the national goal to develop effective treatments for Gulf War Illness, a task at which VA has failed.  

By contrast, last June, the Congressionally chartered committee tasked with oversight of the federal government's  Gulf War research issued a "no confidence" finding in the Gulf War Illness research efforts of the VA.  As noted in a March 13, 2013 story:
"...the group of experts and advocates wrote a damning assessment of VA’s failure to “mount even a minimally effective program, while promoting the scientifically discredited view that 1991 Gulf War veterans have no special health problem as a result of their service.” 
Constituents who recognize the critical importance of the unique, treatment-focused, results oriented GWI CDMRP program should contact their elected representative in the U.S. House as quickly as possible to request their Congressperson sign on to this "Dear Colleague", noting the hard deadline of April 5th.   

The Senate funding effort is separate and will come later.  

-Anthony Hardie



Text of the FY14 Roe-Michaud Dear Colleague Letter for GWI CDMRP Funding

Text of the FY14 Roe-Kucinich Dear Colleague Letter to fund the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program for another year:

Support Gulf War Illness Research

From: The Honorable Michael H. Michaud
Sent By:  Nora Todd
Date: 3/27/2013

Deadline April 5, 2013

Dear Colleague:

We invite you to join us in sending a letter to the House Appropriations Committee urging continued support in FY 2014 for the Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) within the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. 

Many veterans of the first Gulf War suffer from persistent symptoms such as chronic headache, widespread pain, cognitive difficulties, unexplained fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory symptoms, and other abnormalities that are not explained by traditional medical or psychiatric diagnoses.  Research shows that as these veterans age, they are at double the risk for ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease as their non-deployed peers.  There may also be connections to Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.  Unfortunately, there are no known treatments for the lifelong pain these veterans endure. 

On March 21, 2013 Georgetown University published a groundbreaking report that demonstrates the success and effectiveness of GWIRP.  Funded by the program, the study found that veterans who suffer from Gulf War Illness have physical changes in their brains that may account for pain from actions as simple as putting on a shirt.  More research must be done, but this study was an important step forward in understanding the illness that is believed to affect veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan as well.  We are requesting continued funding for the GWIRP to help our veterans get the answers and the care they need.

This request has the endorsement of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, and Veterans for Common Sense.

Please contact Colin Wilhelm in Rep. Roe’s office or Nora Todd in Rep. Michaud’s office for more information or to sign this letter.


/s/                                                        /s/
Phil Roe                                              Michael H. Michaud
Member of Congress                          Member of Congress

April xx, 2013

The Honorable C.W. Young                                           The Honorable Pete Visclosky
Chairman                                                                          Ranking Member
Defense Appropriations Subcommittee                     Defense Appropriations Subcommittee
H-307, The Capitol                                                         1016 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515                                               Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Young and Ranking Member Visclosky:

Thank you for your interest and continued support of the Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) within the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), including the $20 million awarded to the program for FY2013.   As the Subcommittee begins work on the FY 2014 Appropriations bill for the Department of Defense, we are pleased to point out the dramatic progress made by the program during the past three years.

In a landmark 2010 report, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recognized that the chronic multisymptom illness affecting 250,000 Gulf War veterans is a serious disease not caused by psychiatric illness that also affects other U.S. military forces.  The IOM report called for a major national research effort to identify treatments.  In January 2013 a new report, also from IOM, confirmed that, “preliminary data suggest that [the illness] is occurring in veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well."   Most recently, on March 21, 2013, Georgetown University published a groundbreaking study that found that veterans who suffer from Gulf War Illness have physical changes in their brains that may account for pain from actions as simple as putting on a shirt. 

The scientific community has responded with a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of proposals submitted to CDMRP.  Most encouraging, CDMRP-funded researchers have completed the first successful pilot study of a medication to treat one of the major symptoms of Gulf War Illness.  In recognition of this progress, a bipartisan amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act of 2012 provided $10 million for the program, and a bipartisan amendment to the 2013 Act provided $20 million for the program.  The $10 million increase in FY13 offset a corresponding $10 million reduction in Gulf War illness research at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

We appreciate the support you have given to make this progress possible and respectfully seek your support in FY 2014 for adequate funding to continue the progress that has been made.  Funding will be used for pilot studies of promising treatments, for clinical trials of treatments shown effective in earlier pilot studies, and for the execution of collaborative treatment research plans developed by consortiums of scientists funded by CDMRP in FY 2010.

This small yet effective program warrants support, even in a time of fiscal austerity.  The GWIRP is the only national program addressing this issue.  It is a competitive, peer-reviewed program open to any doctor or scientist on a competitive basis.  By contrast, the Veterans Affairs (VA) research programs are open only to VA doctors, few of whom have expertise in chronic multisymptom illness.   Because of the lack of interested and qualified researchers, VA cut its Gulf War research budget from $15 to $5 million in FY13.

Furthermore, the program is working.  CDMRP-funded researchers at the University of California, San Diego, reported in June 2011 on the first successful medication treatment study in the history of Gulf War illness research.  The study showed that the supplement CoQ10 produced significant improvement in one of the most serious symptoms of Gulf War illness, fatigue with exertion.  This discovery is not a cure, and more work needs to be done to address this illness that affects 250,000 Gulf War veterans.   We respectfully request that you provide the necessary resources to accomplish this vital program.

This request has the endorsement of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, and Veterans for Common Sense.




ACTION NEEDED:   Ask Your Congressman/Congresswoman to sign onto the "Roe-Michaud Dear Colleague Letter" for FY14 Gulf War Illness CDMRP funding.  


DEADLINE:  Sign-On's must be made by April 12, 2013 (NEW DEADLINE).



  1. Read this backgrounder, then Find your Congressman/Congresswoman here (near the top right corner, enter your zip code).  
    • [Don't worry about Senators right now]
  2. Check here to see if they signed onto last year's (FY13) request.  
    • [If they didn't, don't worry about it, keep going with the request]
  3. Call the Washington, DC office [not an office in the home state] and ask for the legislative staff person who handles Defense Appropriations.  
    • If you get their voicemail, leave a detailed voicemail.
  4. Explain that you are a constituent, and very briefly (a couple sentences at most) state your connection to Gulf War Illness.  
    • [For example:  "I'm one of the one in three Gulf War veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness".  
    • Or, "I'm the wife/husband/son/daughter/parent of a Gulf War veteran suffering from Gulf War Illness."
    • Or, "I'm one of many other veterans besides those who served in the Gulf War and I'm also suffering for chronic multisymptom illness, commonly known as Gulf War Illness."
    • Etc.
  5. Explain that there is a "Dear Colleague" letter that you are specifically requesting the Congressman/Congresswoman sign onto.  
  6. Provide the name of the "Dear Colleague" letter:  the "Roe-Michaud Dear Colleague Letter" for FY14 Gulf War Illness CDMRP funding.  
  7. State that there is an April 5, 2013 sign-on deadline, and that you know the Congressman/Congresswoman will likely want to support the one-third of Gulf War veterans and others suffering from Gulf War Illness.  
    • [If they signed on last year, state that you know they will likely want to sign on again this year]
  8. Ask that the staff person follow-up with you to let you know the Congressman's/Congresswoman's decision.
  9. Thank the staff person for their time.
  10. Follow-up in 2-3 days to find out the status, if you haven't heard back.
    • If they say they will sign on, post a comment below this post with the name of the Congressperson and that they will sign on.  


  • Be polite
  • Be pleasant
  • Be urgent
  • Be respectful
  • Be convincing
  • Be brief
  • Be SPECIFIC with the REQUEST:  Sign onto the "Roe-Michaud Dear Colleague Letter" for FY14 Gulf War Illness CDMRP funding.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

VA Issues FAST Letter on Changes to Duty-to-Assist

( - The VA has issued a new FAST letter regarding changes to "duty to assist" and "duty to notify" laws governing VA claims processing.

According to the March 23, 2013 letter:

"This Fast Letter (FL) explains the changes resulting from sections 504 and 505 of Public Law (PL) 112-154, which became effective on February 2, 2013.  The PL amends 38 U.S.C. §§ 5103 and 5103A to streamline the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) duty- to-notify and duty-to-assist responsibilities.  This new law applies to VA’s notification and assistance obligations on or after February 2, 2013.  No rework of claims handled prior to the date of this letter will be required as a result of this amended law." 

"Compensation Service is in the process of amending 38 C.F.R. § 3.159 to comply with this statutory change and the revisions will not be final until a later time.  However, Regional Office (RO) and Pension Management Center (PMC) employees must implement key provisions of this PL immediately per instructions contained in this letter.  Compensation Service and Pension and Fudiciary (P&F) Service  will make necessary  changes to M21-1MR, training materials, electronic systems, etc. subsequent to the final regulation change."

The full text of the FAST letter is at:

-Anthony Hardie

Monday, March 25, 2013

Senate Opposes Chained CPI Cuts to Social Security, Veterans' Benefits

Source: Press Release, U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Senate Opposes Chained CPI Cuts to Social Security, Veterans' Benefits

WASHINGTON, March 22 – The Senate tonight voted to block cuts in benefits for Social Security and disabled veterans.

The amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) put the Senate on record against changing how cost-of-living increases are calculated in a way that would result in significant cuts.

“The time has come for the Senate to send a very loud and clear message to the American people: We will not balance the budget on the backs of disabled veterans who have lost their arms, their legs and their eyesight defending our country. We will not balance the budget on the backs of the men and women who have already sacrificed for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor on the widows who have lost their husbands in Iraq and Afghanistan defending our country,” Sanders said.

The amendment opposed switching from the current method of measuring inflation to a so-called chained consumer price index.

The proposed change would affect more than 3.2 million disabled veterans receiving disability compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65. Benefits for more than 350,000 surviving spouses and children who have lost a loved one in battle also would be cut. Dependency Indemnity Compensation benefits already average less than $17,000 a year.

More than 55 million retirees, widows, orphans and disabled Americans receiving Social Security also would be affected by the switch to a chained CPI. That figure includes 9 million veterans with an average yearly benefit of about $15,500. A veteran with average earnings retiring at age 65 would get nearly a $600 benefit cut at age 75 and a $1,000 cut at age 85. By age 95, when Social Security benefits are probably needed the most, that veteran would face a cut of $1,400 – a reduction of 9.2 percent.

A chained CPI would cut Social Security benefits for average senior citizens who are 65 by more than $650 a year by the time they are 75 years old, and by more than $1,000 once they reach 85.

Groups supporting Sanders include AARP, the AFL-CIO, National Organization for Women, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS and others.

Sanders is chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the founder of the Defending Social Security Caucus.

Senate Sends Clear Message: Don’t Cut Social Security, Veterans’ Benefits

SOURCE:  Press Release, Office of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Senate Sends Clear Message: Don’t Cut Social Security, Veterans’ Benefits

March 25, 2013
BURLINGTON, Vt., March 25 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said today that a Senate vote showed overwhelming opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposal to cut benefits for Social Security recipients and disabled veterans.
The Senate early Saturday passed a budget resolution that included Sanders’ amendment against switching to a so-called chained consumer price index which would cut cost-of-living adjustments by changing how inflation is measured.
“This is a strong signal that when push comes to shove the Senate is going to oppose any effort to balance the budget on the backs of seniors, disabled veterans and their survivors,” Sanders said after the vote.
By adopting the amendment, the Senate went on record against the change that would cut Social Security benefits for more than 55 million Americans as part of what the White House calls a “grand bargain” with Republicans in Congress.
Typical 65-year-old retirees would lose more than $650 a year by their 75th birthday and more than $1,000 a year would be cut from their benefits once they reach 85.
The proposed change also would affect more than 3.2 million disabled veterans receiving disability compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65.  Benefits for more than 350,000 surviving spouses and children also would be cut.
Groups supporting Sanders’ amendment included AARP, the AFL-CIO, National Organization for Women, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS and others.
Sanders is chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the founder of the Defending Social Security Caucus. 

VA Launches Internal Investigation into Whistleblower's Allegations of Gulf War Illness Research Misconduct

( - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched an internal investigation into allegations of misconduct related to VA's handling of Gulf War Illness and other deployment health research.  The allegations were raised at a recent, highly charged Congressional investigative hearing.

“If the studies produce results that do not support Office of Public Health’s unwritten policy, they do not release them,” testified Dr. Steven Coughlin at the March 13, 2013 hearing of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (HVAC-O&I).  Coughlin is a former senior epidemiologist-turned-whistleblower who resigned from the VA's Office of Public Health (OPH) due to "ethical concerns".

Coughlin and others testifying at the hearing, including Dr. Lea Steele and myself, provided numerous allegations of serious VA staff wrongdoing -- primarily within VA-OPH -- related to Gulf War Illness, burn pits, and other serious post-deployment health issues.

On March 14, the national commander of the American Legion called for an investigation:
“If Dr. Coughlin’s allegations are true, VA’s conduct is absolutely unconscionable. Some veterans – those of the first Gulf War – have been suffering from this disease for as many as two decades. That the cause of this serious, painful and debilitating malady might have been purposely withheld from broad medical knowledge is beyond comprehension. With knowledge of the cause could have come a cure, perhaps long ago. A thorough investigation is demanded by The American Legion.” 
The internal VA investigation will be led from within the Office of the Director of VA's Office of Research Oversight (ORO), a subunit of VA's Veterans Health Administration.  

Federal law creating ORO [PL 108-170, Sec. 401] specifies that the ORO, "shall investigate allegations of research impropriety and misconduct in medical research projects of the Department."  

A link on the ORO website to VHA Handbook 1058.02: "Research Misconduct" is broken.

-Anthony Hardie  

VA CofS John Gingrich to Retire

SOURCE: (Bryant Jordan reporting)

VA Chief of Staff Expected to Retire

Mar 24, 2013
Department of Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff John R. Gingrich
Department of Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff John R. Gingrich is calling it quits.
Gingrich -- criticized by lawmakers and the VA’s Inspector General’s office last year in connection with a pair of Florida resort VA conferences cited for waste and ethics violations -- is leaving on his own terms and retiring, according to sources who spoke to on condition of anonymity.
Gingrich, a Persian Gulf War veteran who served 30 years in the Army, is expected to leave within the next few weeks and perhaps as soon as one week. However, it’s unclear when the VA plans to formally announce Gingrich’s retirement.
A request for comment from the VA was not returned before the publishing of this article.
Gingrich has reportedly stayed on since the start of the new administration in January at the request of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who asked him to help out through some of the transitions and prepare for an interim chief of staff.
“[This] will have been done by the end of the month,” Gingrich said in a statement that has not yet been released to the public according to a source who has seen the memo. “I believe we have accomplished much in the past four years and the team is well focused for the future.”
Gingrich decided to retire after discussing it with his wife, according to a source.
Some veterans and VA observers saw Gingrich as more involved in the department’s day-to-day operations than Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould.
Last year, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, ranking member of its Senate counterpart, demanded Gingrich’s firing after the VA was cited for wasteful spending and ethics violations at two human resources training programs at a Florida resort in 2011.
The events cost more than $6 million. The IG found instances of VA employees accepting gifts from contractors including spa treatments, helicopter rides, and tickets to a performance by the Rockettes. The agency spent nearly $100,000 on promotional items – bags, pens, water bottles – that the IG deemed unnecessary and wasteful.
Gingrich admitted in a statement that was included in the IG report that he fell down on the job when he approved the conferences without asking enough questions.
“I signed the thing authorizing the conferences. So, I should have made sure the conferences were executed better,” he said. “Now, I think people should have done more prudent work. But, it’s my signature upon that page. And, I take the full responsibility. And, I should have asked, probably, harder questions than I did … But, I also think there is a bunch of senior executives, regardless of whether they are SES or above, that have responsibilities for the execution.”
VA Secretary Shinseki rejected the lawmakers call for Gingrich’s firing.
Within the VA, the IG’s office recommended that Shinseki meet with VA attorneys to determine “the appropriate administrative action to take against Mr. Gingrich and ensure that action is taken.” There is no indication Shinseki met with the VA’s general counsel or, if he did, determined that any administrative action was appropriate.
Gingrich’s expected retirement comes right after a Time magazine columnist recommended that Shinseki resign. On Tuesday, Miller said at a hearing that VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey should resign following his frustrations with continued long wait lines for veterans seeking benefits.
Gingrich was appointed VA chief of staff in 2009. He retired from the Army as a colonel in 2001. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991 he commanded a field artillery battalion in the 1st Infantry Division along Saudi Arabia-Iraq border.
He later served as executive officer to the commander of U.S. Army-Europe and Allied Land Forces Central Europe. Just before retiring in 2001 he served as the director of the Army Chief of Staff Strategic Planning Group. He subsequently stayed on at the Pentagon until 2003 in the senior executive service, serving as director of Army Strategic Communications Initiatives in the chief of staff’s office.
Just before joining the VA, he was president of Strategic LINX, Inc., a consulting company that teaches strategy planning, development and communications to government agencies, corporations and non-profits.

DAILY BEAST: Gulf War Syndrome Lawsuit: Chemical Warfare’s Lingering Fallout

Source: Newsweek's The Daily Beast (Jamie Reno reporting)

Gulf War Syndrome Lawsuit: Chemical Warfare’s Lingering Fallout

A groundbreaking new lawsuit, with a Desert Storm veteran as the plaintiff, seeks to connect an American firm with the mysterious condition known as Gulf War syndrome.

As a new study seems to establish for the first time that Gulf War syndrome—the mysterious, multisymptom condition often marked by pain and fatigue and reported by nearly one in three of the 700,000 U.S. veterans of that war—is in fact a physical condition, a potentially groundbreaking lawsuit focused on the chemical weapons used by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and the damage they may have caused American soldiers, is about to make its way to a Texas courtroom.

PTSD Recommendations
U.S. soldiers patrol the outskirts of Spin Boldak, near the border with Pakistan, about 63 miles southeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

For nearly 20 years, Houston attorney Gary Pitts has compiled information on companies worldwide that allegedly developed materials Saddam used for his chemical weapons program. His latest lawsuit targets one company from that list—an American one. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Pitts alleges that at the time of the attack on the Kurds, Alcolac, Inc., a now-defunct Maryland company whose assets are owned by Paris-based chemical concern Rhodia, was, through a middleman, supplying Iraq with thiodiglycol (TDG), the chemical used to make mustard gas, a highly toxic agent used in the attack.

David Klucsik, a spokesman for Rhodia, tells The Daily Beast, “Alcolac did not supply thiodiglycol to Iraq. Not even the plaintiff [in the current court case] argues that Alcolac did so. Rather, plaintiff says that Alcolac sold TDG to an entity that then resold it to Iraq.”

Pitts’s suit will be heard at a time when chemical weapons and Baathist policies have returned to the front pages, as the Syrian government and opposition forces accuse each other of using them in an attack in Aleppo last week that killed 26 people. While preliminary reports show no chemical weapons were used, many observers believe the Syrian government may be preparing to use chemical weapons against the rebels. This month also marks the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s deadly chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja in northeast Iraq, which killed 5,000 Iraqi Kurds and injured about 10,000 others. It is considered the largest chemical attack on civilians in world history.

While Alcolac paid a fine in 1990 for one charge of exporting TDG in violation of the Export Administration Act, a 2011 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling found that a corporation couldn’t be sued under the Torture Victim Protection Act, and that the Kurds who’d been victims of mustard gas, or were family members of those who had been, lacked standing to sue under the Alien Tort Statue, since they’d failed to prove purposeful conduct by Alcolac.

So Pitts has brought a new case on behalf of former First Armored Division field surgeon Victor Alcaron, a Gulf War veteran who says he was exposed to mustard gas while deployed to Iraq. “It caused serious lung problems,” says Pitts. “He was forced to medically retire from the military. He has trouble breathing. He is quite impaired.”

“It’s [also] likely that Hussein used this chemical precursor supplied by Alcolac in his attack on the Kurds,” says Pitts—adding that he believes at least one other American company supplied chemical precursors to Saddam: Al-Haddad Trading, owned and operated from Nashville by an Iraqi national who fled the U.S. when the Gulf War began. But that company has no assets from which to seek recovery.

This has been dubbed the worst “friendly fire” incident in American history, because the chemicals that the U.S. troops were exposed to may have been supplied to Iraq by the U.S. before the Gulf War. 

Alcaron’s suit is scheduled for a June trial in Angleton, Texas, a small town outside of Houston near where Rhodia has an American office. To date, no American chemical maker has been found liable in a civil proceeding for harming an American soldier in Iraq during the Gulf War.

In his quest to identify companies that allegedly supplied materials to Saddam, Pitts says he received no cooperation from the U.S. government, which has never been eager to release this information to the public. Pitts instead turned to former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who gave him a list Ritter had acquired from the Iraqi government during a 2002 meeting with Saddam’s former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz.

Klucsik, the Rhodia spokesman, says that while he “does not concede that Alcolac’s TDG made its way into Iraq … even if it did, there is no evidence that Iraq turned Alcolac’s TDG into mustard gas. Because of the multiple suppliers of TDG, in this liability litigation plaintiffs must show that Alcolac’s product was specifically changed into mustard gas and that he was exposed to that subsequent product.”

The man who actually delivered the thiodiglycol to Iraq is Frans Van Anraat, a Dutch businessman who is now in a Netherlands prison for war crimes. Van Anraat was arrested in 2004, as he appeared to be preparing to flee the country, and wassentenced to 17 years for complicity in war crimes for supplying raw materials for chemical weapons to Iraq—becoming the first person to be convicted of a crime related to the massacre of the Kurds. He was acquitted, though, of complicity in genocide, since it couldn’t be established that he knew of the regime’s genocidal intentions toward the group. Fifteen Kurds also participated in that trial as civil parties, claiming the symbolic amount of €680 by way of compensation for losses incurred.

“From what we can gather from news reports,” says Klucsik, “van Anraat was prosecuted and convicted of complicity in Iraq’s chemical weapons attacks on Kurds in 1986 through 1988. This is different than plaintiff’s claim that he was injured in 1991 in the first Gulf War.”

Kani Xulam, founder of the American Kurdish Information Network, which seeks to provide a Kurdish voice in the American discussion, will be paying close attention to the Texas case.

“If the plaintiff wins it will be healing both for American veterans who were exposed to these chemicals and for the Kurdish people,” he says. “I’ve waited a long time for the truth to come out. Of the more than 1,000 companies around the world that gave Saddam chemicals for his chemical weapons program, including American companies, not a single company has had a CEO come out and say ‘I’m sorry.’ Not one.”

For his part, Pitts says he has dozens of other veterans who came home suffering from Gulf War syndrome lined up, whom he hopes to represent in future cases against Alcolac.

It wasn’t just American companies that allegedly provided chemicals to Iraq before the Gulf War; it was evidently the U.S. government, which had quietly aided Iraq in its eight-year conflict with Iran that ended in 1988. Then-senator Donald Riegle, the Michigan Democrat who chaired Senate hearings on Iraq’s weapons programs and Gulf War illness, concluded nearly two decades ago that the U.S. exported a variety of materials to Iraq that were used to further Saddam’s chemical weapons development.

The Washington Post reported that in the mid-1980s—following a visit to Iraq by Donald Rumsfeld—dozens of biological agents were allegedly shipped to Iraq under license from the Commerce Department. They allegedly included anthrax, as well as insecticides, the Post reported, despite widespread suspicions that they were being used for chemical warfare.

In December, a peer-reviewed scientific study by James Tuite, a former Secret Service agent and Senate investigator, concluded that weather patterns carried an enormous toxic chemical cloud for 300 miles after the U.S. bombed Iraqi chemical weapon storage facilities, ultimately exposing U.S. troops to them, and setting off chemical weapons alarms in Saudi Arabia.

In testimony before Congress, disabled Gulf War veteran Anthony Hardie said he was exposed to mustard gas in a bunker complex in Kuwait. He says the anniversary of Saddam’s attack on the Kurds is an “important reminder” that Saddam used toxic chemicals against his own people and that these chemicals also harmed American troops in the Gulf War and, apparently, the subsequent Iraq War, whose 10-year anniversary is this month.

“The tragedy at Halabja is one of numerous instances of Iraq using chemical agents on Iraqi populations,” Hardie tells The Daily Beast. “And it’s more than a little ironic that one in three Gulf War veterans now have Gulf War illness and that their disabilities were brought about largely by earlier U.S.-approved sales of chemical warfare agents to the Iraqi regime.”

In a letter sent last year to his Gulf War veteran clients, Pitts wrote that even if only a few of their cases make it to trial, “[w]e will have been successful in our joint effort of discouraging companies to sell dictators the means to have weapons of mass destruction.”