Written by Anthony Hardie
(91outcomes.com) - As the dust settled today on Capitol Hill, the news emerging from the budget deal conference committee is favorable for ill Gulf War veterans -- Congress has agreed to Gulf War veterans' strenuous requests and will continue the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) next year.
Just as it is every year, this year was a challenge for ill Gulf War veterans and their advocates to keep the program alive and funded at a level where it can be effective. The program is well-liked by many Gulf War veterans, including those who have participated in cutting-edge research studies funded through the program and consumer reviewers who help decide which projects get funded.
In the House, this year's effort to keep the Gulf War Illness CDMRP alive was championed by Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) and Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN). Michaud, the ranking minority member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, and Roe, a medical doctor, were integral to this year's successful funding effort, which had been making its way through Congress for most of the last year.
Along with continued public support from House Veterans' Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Michaud's lead helped pave the way to a record level of support this year in the House. They were aided in large part by the efforts of a growing resurgence of Gulf War veteran grassroots advocates, many frustrated with VA's research failures but encouraged by the CDMRP's apparent progress.
Other leading House Veterans' Affairs supporters included Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (HVAC-O&I) Chair Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Ranking Member Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), and Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity (HVAC-EO) Ranking Member Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA).
In the Senate, an effort led by Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a longstanding champion of the program and of Gulf War veterans, helped demonstrate the Senate's continued support. The conference committee, led by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and nearly 50 members of the House and Senate, forged the final deal.
The Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) will be funded at $20 million for Fiscal Year 2014, the same level as it was funded for this year, and a dramatic increase from its initial funding level of $5 million when it was begun just seven years ago. While this year's funding was reduced significantly by mandated sequester cuts, it remains unclear what impact the sequester might have on next year's funding.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has remained under sustained criticism for the mishandling of its own Gulf War research program, which in over two decades and hundreds of millions of dollars spent has failed to develop a single effective treatment for Gulf War Illness. In 2012, the federal panel (RAC) tasked with reviewing federal Gulf War research efforts issued a "no confidence" report regarding VA's Gulf War Illness research efforts.
And last March, a top VA researcher-turned-whistleblower exposed a wide scale research coverup related to Gulf War Illness and burn pit exposures during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. In June, two of the three Gulf War veterans on the panel resigned in protest to try to bring public attention to VA's failure to heed its own expert advisory panel. To date, it remains unclear what action VA has taken to correct the many serious issues identified, if any.
Researchers funded by the Gulf War Illness CDMRP presented their findings at a public meeting of the RAC panel last week included Dr. Nancy Klimas, Dr. Fiona Crawford, and Dr. Gordon Broderick. Many of the Gulf War veterans attending the meeting by teleconference expressed optimism regarding the researchers' presentations.
Gulf War Illness, a chronic multi-symptom disease believed to have been induced by wartime toxic exposures along with a possible genetic component, affects roughly one-third of the 697,000 veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.
For the actual appropriations language in the Joint Ombibus, see the FY14 DoD Appropriations portion at the link that follows. The CDMRP funding provisions are at page 279 of the PDF.