Thursday, June 13, 2013

House Appropriations Committee Allocates $20 Million to Gulf War Illness Treatment Research

( - The full House Appropriations Committee has provided very good news for ill Gulf War veterans by including $20 million in funding for the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) within the Department of Defense.  The allocated funding mirrors the doubled annual funding provided earlier this year and sending a clear message to VA that it needs to improve its efforts for Gulf War veterans.

The CDMRP program funds the best treatment and pre-treatment medical research for Gulf War Illness from among proposals submitted by researchers.  Many are even from VA medical researchers, who apparently have difficulty getting funding for their Gulf War Illness treatment-focused medical research from within VA.  Last year, VA's budget showed a two-thirds cut to VA's Gulf War Illness research funding, down from $15 million to just $4.8 million.

Earlier this year, a grassroots effort by Gulf War veterans led to the largest number of Congressional cosigners on a House letter by Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) to fund the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness CDMRP program.

The Gulf War Illness CDMRP began very small, with only a small handful of proposals able to be funded each year from early funding that ranged from between $5 and $8 million per year.  By contrast, a Congressionally funded earmark research program by Dr. Robert Haley at the University of Texas-Southwestern was funded at $75 million over five years, before VA killed the program and failed to replace it with anything comparable.

Funding for the program has grown over time, since it was first created with Fiscal Year 2006 funding. Even with limited funding, important new results have come out of the CDMRP and much more is expected with increased funding.

Last June, the Congressionally-chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses (RAC) issued a scathing "no confidence" report regarding, "the ability or demonstrated intention of VA staff to formulate and execute an effective VA Gulf War illness research program.”  VA has yet to fix the many serious issues identified in this report, including the whitewashing of a first ever Strategic Plan aimed at improving the health and lives of ill Gulf War veterans.

In March, a former VA researcher-turned-whistleblower told Congress and the nation about specific instances of VA research staff covering up Gulf War Illness and other serious deployment health issues.

As charged by Congress and VA since its creation, the RAC has continued to fulfill its core oversight functions aimed specifically at improving the health and lives of ill Gulf War veterans.  Despite the RAC's many recommendations to VA, VA still has not a single proven effective treatment for ill Gulf War veterans.  

While this year's final annual funding for the program is far from settled, the actions by the House Appropriations Committee represent a very strong starting point.

And with increased funding for the Gulf War Illness CDMRP and increasingly reliable Congressional support, it appears increasingly likely that solving Gulf War Illness will come from outside VA, the agency charged with caring for the nation's veterans.

-Anthony Hardie


The link below is to the House Report to the FY14 DoD Appropriations Act.  The CDMRP table is on p. 269 of the report (p. 273 on the PDF).  

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