(91outcomes.com) - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has cancelled the October 28-29, 2013 meeting of the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses (RAC-GWVI), alleging the current government shutdown as the reason.
According to an email received by 91outcomes this evening, Oct. 4, 2013, from RAC personnel,
"Yes, we just heard this afternoon that the October 28-29 RAC meeting has been cancelled due to the govt. shutdown. The VA is open for patient care but they have cancelled all meeting travel for the month of October (at least) to conserve funds. The RAC is still OK in terms of funding for now.Following a contentious June 19, 2012 meeting in which the RAC issued a "no confidence" report regarding VA's Gulf War research actions, the RAC was prevented by VA staff from holding several of its regularly scheduled meetings spanning the course of an entire year.
In February of this year, 58 of the nation's veterans service organizations noted the following regarding the RAC in their report, The Independent Budget for Fiscal Year 2014:
"Instances such as the RAC-GWVI comments and recommendations to suspend conducting VA’s follow-up study of a national cohort of Gulf War and Gulf War-era veterans (Gulf War Follow-Up Study) and to the changes made to the post-January 23, 2012, version of VA’s Gulf War Research Strategic Plan are cause for great concern with the direction of VA GWI research."
The VSO's, which include the VFW, DAV, AMVETS, and Paralyzed Veterans of America, and 54 other veterans service organizations, went on to note the RAC's June 2012 "no confidence" vote and a sharp VA decrease in Gulf War funding as,
"contribut[ing] to the lagging interest among researchers who would otherwise commit themselves and their careers in Gulf War illness research, further marginalizing ill Gulf War veterans."
Between late May and early June of this year, the chairman of the RAC and all the Gulf War veterans on the RAC sent letters of concern to VA's leadership, expressing concerns about retaliatory changes to the RAC's mission, scope, and composition. All of the panel's Gulf War veterans walked out of the meeting in protest of VA's actions, with two (Marguerite Knox, Anthony Hardie) resigning in protest.
Gulf War veterans have called for legislation to restore and strengthen the RAC, authorized in a 1998 law aimed by its authors at providing independent oversight over federal Gulf War research efforts.
It is unclear when the VA will allow the RAC, significantly altered by the recent changes, to meet again.