Tuesday, June 10, 2014

DENNIE WILLIAMS: Critical Complaints About Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Not Answered

SOURCE:  OpEd News, Dennie Wiliams reporting, 6/10/2014



Critical Complaints About Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Not Answered

By  (about the author)

June 10, 2014 at 09:25:37

A leader in trying to help frustrated, sick Gulf War veterans obtain long overdue and critical health care, is charging there is a serious, on-going cover up in that critical process by the "highest level" veterans' affairs officials.

James H. Binns Jr., leader of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, wrote a four-page letter detailing that complaint to The White House, The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and to an investigating Congressional committee. His letter alleged that top VA leaders had prevented his committee from eliminating VA barriers to effective military veteran's health care.

In addition, Binns said, other valid issues brought up in Congressional testimony last year by a former senior VA scientist turned whistleblower, Dr. Steven Coughlin, have been ignored by top VA officials. They include: "slanting research studies; failure to publish critical research results; disseminating false information to the medical community; manipulating even (scientific organization) reports; failing to conduct studies as ordered by Congress; and reporting false and misleading information to Congress."

A related scandal about the VA cover-up of delays in executing actions for large waiting lists of health needy veterans is already being looked into by the VA, White House and Congress. It resulted in the recent resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

In March, USA Today reported that the VA took actions in the past year to show its disapproval of Binns. "The agency has replaced all but one of the board members, weakened Binns' tenure as the board's chairman, removed the board's charge to review the effectiveness of the VA, and pushed research that looks at stress as a cause, rather than environmental factors," said USA Today. On March 25, Binns testified before the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee about the problems with effectively treating sick Gulf War veterans.

Binns, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, told this reporter in an interview that the VA has backed off portions of those demands against his committee. It's obvious, he said, that the VA emphasis on veterans' stress, rather than their real underlying war created illnesses has been more than overplayed.

In Binns' complaint letter obtained by this reporter last week, Binns identified by name three VA officials who have opposed or resisted efforts to properly identify veterans' health problems,
Binns said one of them had been convinced by staff to eliminate Binns' committee's review of the effectiveness of VA's research program and to announce that all committee members would be replaced. The other, said Binns, had argued for putting stress experts, rather than true professional health advocates, on that committee.

A third VA official, supervising benefits, said Binns, opposed even using the term 'Gulf War illness' because it "might imply a causal link between service in the Gulf and poor health which could necessitate ... disability compensation for veterans who served in the Gulf."

Since last week, the VA has not answered repeated telephoned and email requests for comment on Binns' allegations. As a result, the three officials named by Binns are not identified in this article.

Binns' letter said: "I have witnessed the same willingness to hide the truth and put bureaucratic agendas ahead of veterans' health that has occurred in Phoenix (the committee's location) and elsewhere. In this case, however, the duplicity reaches the highest levels of the department and obstructs hopes for better health of an entire generation of veterans.

"Congress created our committee to advise VA on research to improve the health of the quarter-million veterans who came home sick from the 1991 Gulf War, after expelling Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait in four days. They suffer from unremitting pain, memory loss, intestinal disorders, exhaustion, and ruined careers. Many have died, but we don't know how many because VA has not published that information since as of 2000," continued Binns.

"For the past two years," he wrote, "VA staff has been engaged in a backdoor campaign to rig scientific studies and reports in order to revive the discredited 1990's fiction that nothing special happened to their health, just what happens after every war, due to psychiatric stress. This campaign is designed to save costs by denying benefits, but it also has the insidious effect of misleading research to find treatments down blind alleys."

He gave this example of that so-called campaign: "An April 22, 2014, news report by MilitaryTimes disclosed that VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey opposed even using the term 'Gulf War illness' because it 'might imply a causal link between service in the Gulf and poor health which could necessitate ... disability compensation for veterans who served in the Gulf.'"
Binns' figures show that "compared to the 250,000 who are ill, current VA statistics show that only 11,216 veterans' claims for health care and compensation for Gulf War-related illness have been approved."

His letter appeared after Congress began its own efforts to handle the situation. No one within the government has yet answered that letter, sent June 3, he said Monday.

As a reaction to the overall scandal, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, who is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and John McCain, an Arizona Republican, are proposing a solution said to have support for passing in the Senate and the House, perhaps as early as this week.

That proposal would speed up the health considerations for veterans by leasing 26 major medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico. It would make available $500 million in federal funding to strengthen the VA's ability to recruit and retain doctors.

And, the deal includes a measure to improve the delivery of care to veterans who were victims of sexual assault while in the military. Initially, veterans to seek care from private doctors paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also would offer veterans in-state tuition at any public university, and it would extend those benefits to spouses of service members who died during their time in the military.

The never-ending scandals about the VA's and the U.S. Department of Defense's inability to consistently help sick, wounded and deformed Gulf War veterans has been ongoing since the first part of the Gulf War started in 1991.

As Binns said in his letter, the illnesses' likely causes are: "an onslaught of neurotoxic exposures, including anti-nerve-gas pills, pesticides, oil-well fires, and low-level chemical weapons released by the destruction of Iraqi facilities."

Binns added: "These sick veterans have no effective treatments, but remedies can likely be discovered with the right research, according to the Institute of Medicine."

What is more, top officials of the White House, their administrations, Congress, including presidents in Democratic and Republican parties, have never proved effective in resolving these tragic and ongoing military veterans' health issues. That includes the administrations of George H. W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Despite repeated public controversies over the inability of thousands of Gulf War veterans to get even consultations or examinations by the VA soon after the first part of the wars began 23 years ago, little progress was made, causing the large VA backlogs today.

Some congressional officials, like former Connecticut U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, have indeed worked constantly to help these unhealthy veterans, but their efforts never succeeded in creating an effective overall military-health system for seriously harmed war veterans.

"Chairman Binns' letter is an important effort to try to highlight yet one more area where VA is badly broken," said Anthony Hardie, a member of the board of directors for Veterans for Common Sense.

He continued: "The VA has failed veterans of the 1991 Gulf War in so many ways, including the lies and manipulation Binns writes about in his letter. As a (Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses) member from 2006 to 2013, I experienced much of what he writes about firsthand - VA staff members' lies and obfuscation. While it hurt the committee and its efforts, who it really hurts is ill Gulf War veterans counting on this committee and VA to make a difference in their health and lives."

In part because of their own busyness with the VA scandal, spokespersons for the President, VA leaders, and Congress said they did not yet have the time to respond to Binns' allegations. Last week, they were all supplied via emails from this reporter with Binns' critical letter, dated June 3. Those contacts were reawakened Monday without results.

(Article changed on June 10, 2014 at 10:19)

Thomas D. Williams, a freelance writer, worked at The Hartford Courant for almost 40 years before retiring in November 2005 to become an investigative freelancer on Internet news sites. He has written a unique nature book, The Spirits of Birds, (more...)

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