Sunday, March 24, 2013

RENO DISPATCH: One Thing Going Right for Gulf War Illness Treatments

Special thanks to award-winning journalist Jamie Reno for inviting me to contribute this guest column on the Reno Dispatch about one thing that is going right for Gulf War veterans, a small, Congressionally directed, treatment-focused Gulf War Illness program that is outside the underperforming VA:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

One Thing Our Government is Doing Right For Veterans

My guest blogger today is Anthony Hardie, a service-disabled veteran whose seven years active duty military service included deployments to the Gulf War and Somalia. Anthony serves on the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses (RAC) in the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the integration panel of the Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). Anthony is the author of  91 outcomes, a popular health news website for Gulf War veterans and those who care for them. On Friday, he was on National Public Radio's Science Friday show talking about current Gulf War Illness treatment issues affecting more than one-third of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War. Anthony, who's testified before Congress many times and is often interviewed by reporters in the national media, me included, is a dedicated advocate for America's veterans. Exclusively for The Reno Dispatch, he writes below about one thing the government is actually doing right for veterans. Yes, apparently there is at least one thing that ain't broke...   

-- Jamie Reno

When I learned today that Congress had finally sent President Obama a final spending bill for this year, I felt both satisfaction and relief – not only because the bill averts yet another potential government shutdown, but because of what it stands to do for Gulf War and other veterans.

Tucked away in seemingly obscure report language accompanying the bill are explicit instructions to the Department of Defense to provide $20 million for the Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). This is double the previous funding level of this program - and in this extraordinarily tough budget year!

Gulf War Illness has been in the national media again quite a bit lately. Last week, it was a whistleblower, who Jamie Reno interviewed for The Daily Beast, blowing the lid off shocking VA research staff misconduct at a Congressional investigative hearing at which I also testified. This week, it’s been the news that Gulf War Illness pain symptoms can be seenobjectively with functional brain scans, essentially a specialized MRI called fMRI.  

And all of that ties into today’s surprising but welcome budget news. 

At last week’s investigative hearing, I testified that funding should be taken from improperly performing works units like those identified by the VA whistleblower. I also included in my testimony several detailed recommendations related to increasing funding for the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness CDMRP, a government program that is actually working.  

As luck would have it, the latter is exactly what happened today, not because of my recommendations, but because of a lot of hard work by a very small number of Gulf War veterans and advocates working quietly behind the scenes, and because of support by a growing number of vocal Gulf War veterans who reached out and contact members of Congress at key junctures. 

In the final spending bill sent to the President today, Congress doubles that funding, to $20 million.

Though still a drop in the bucket of overall federal spending, this tiny (by federal standards) program is already making headway.  

As I noted in my written testimony for last week’s hearing, one of the earliest successes of the CDMRP is the discovery that a particular antioxidant can help reduce some Gulf War Illness symptoms. 

Another, studying the sarin nerve agent to which hundreds of thousands of Gulf War troops were exposed, may have important implications for future military or civilian populations in a homeland security situation since the research findings suggest low-dose, non-symptomatic exposure to sarin may result in long-lasting cardiac and neurological dysfunction.  

Another is that chronic inflammation may underlie many Gulf War Illness symptoms, and if so, effective treatments may already exist. 

Still another is taking an animal model of Gulf War Illness chemical exposures, which has effectively reproduced GWI symptoms, and testing an already available drug to treat pain and memory deficits common in GWI.  

It's also clear that many researchers are making great strides towards unraveling and treating Gulf War Illness without the need to know the specific substance(s) of causation! Unraveling the specifics of what is happening now in the brains and bodies of ill Gulf War veterans appears to be at least as relevant to the identification and development of effective treatments. 

The 2010 Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee wrote that effective treatments for Gulf War Illness can likely be found, and suggested a path forward “to speed the development of effective treatments, cures, and, it is hoped, preventions.” To date, only the  CDMRP has been fully engaged in this effort, though still inadequately funded. Most importantly, these CDMRP efforts are producing real results. 

Meanwhile, VA staff have wasted more precious years, squandered myriad experts’ time, energy, and hard work, and further alienated not just their most engaged advisors but also the very Gulf War veterans they are supposed to be helping. 

And though VA research staff have told us they are now funding treatment studies, the RAC on which I serve has not been provided specific information on these new efforts. 

And, the findings by James Baraniuk, a professor of medicine at Georgetown, which shows that Gulf War illness is caused by damage to the brain, were made possible, not through funding of the intransigent VA, but through this unique Congressionally directed Gulf War Illness treatment research program. 

And so, the news behind today’s “averting a government shutdown” is of profound importance to the more than 250,000 of the 697,000 (one in three) veterans of the 1991 Gulf War that are still debilitated by chronic multi-symptom illness issues we call Gulf War Illness.

For those of us Gulf War veterans suffering from this all-too-real illness, this doubling of treatment research funding signals real, tangible Congressional recognition of a program that is finally aimed at improving our health and lives. Yes, this is  one government program for veterans that is refreshingly devoid of the lies and obfuscation at VA. Because of that, this program is seeing tangible results.

No comments: