Saturday, April 20, 2013

After a Full Year, VA Finally Allows Gulf War Illness Panel to Meet - with Caveats

( - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will finally allow the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses (RAC) to meet -- a full year after its last public meeting.  The RAC last met on June 18-19, 2012, during which the panel blasted VA with a unanimous finding of "no confidence" in VA's handling of Gulf War Illness research.

The RAC will hold its next regular public meetings in Washington, DC on June 17-18, 2013, with a specific agenda to be announced.  However, while the RAC had previously announced that its June meetings would be held in Boston, where RAC staff are located, VA staff have reportedly denied that request and are requiring the meeting instead be held in Washington, DC.  

The RAC typically meets three times per year.  However, citing "new travel regulations", VA staff repeatedly failed to secure standard approval for the RAC to hold its regularly scheduled Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 meetings, causing the meetings to be repeatedly postponed and ultimately cancelled, or in once case pared down to a committee discussion by teleconference with all public presentations cancelled.  Other VA advisory committees were allowed to meet during the same time period.

Since the RAC staff offices were moved to the Boston University campus, the RAC had held one meeting each year in Boston.  

In March, a top VA epidemiological researcher-turned-whistelblower rocked the national press and the VA by testifying before Congress with detailed allegations of VA public health officials lying and covering up Gulf War and other deployment health research findings.  

At the same hearing, it was exposed that despite a major 18-month effort to create a comprehensive Gulf War Illness Research Strategic Plan, VA staff whitewashed, gutted, circumvented, and ignored the consensus-based treatment-focused plan, which had been developed by three advisory bodies and dozens of VA and non-VA researchers and several affected Gulf War veterans.

The law creating the RAC directs the RAC to advise the Secretary.  However, despite most RAC meetings being held at VA headquarters where the Secretary's office is located, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has never attended a RAC meeting during the more than four years since he first became Secretary -- and unlike Shinseki's predecessors.  

Key VA staff have been alleged to "not believe in" Gulf War Illness, and Gulf War veterans have questioned Shinseki's commitment to making VA redirect its multi-million dollar research efforts toward finding treatments to improve the health and lives of the estimated one-third of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War still suffering from "chronic multisymptom illness," commonly known as Gulf War Illness.  VA's continued failure to develop proven effective treatments for GWI, after more than two decades, has been heavily criticized.

-Anthony Hardie 

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