Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reno Dispatch Exclusive: White House Honoree Slams VA, Says Administration's Investigation Barely Scratches the Surface

SOURCE: Reno Dispatch, Jamie Reno reporting, June 4, 2014


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

EXCLUSIVE: White House Honoree Slams VA, Says Administration's Investigation Barely Scratches the Surface

U.S. troops during Gulf War -
On Wednesday, Sloan Gibson, the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs, announced he will visit the embattled Phoenix VA to discuss immediate actions taken as a result of recommendations outlined in the recent interim Inspector General (IG) report. But Jim Binns, a veterans advocate who was honored by the Obama administration for his service to veterans, said the administration's investigation of the manipulation of wait times and other alleged wrongdoing at VA is fatally flawed, and Gibson's visit to Phoenix probably won't change that. 

In a scathing letter sent on Tuesday to Gibson, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, who was handpicked by the president to oversee the government's VA investigation, and other officials, Binns said the investigation cannot be entrusted to VA staff or even the IG. 

"The Chief of Staff, the Acting Undersecretary for Health, and the Undersecretary for Benefits are themselves directly implicated," wrote Binns, who chairs the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, which Congress established in 1998 to advise VA on research to improve Gulf War veterans' health. "Like the Gulf War battlefield," he wrote, "VA is a toxic environment." 

Binns, who is also an executive, attorney, former Department of Defense policy official and Vietnam veteran, was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service. He urged the administration to "look much higher and much deeper than hospital administrators scamming wait times with tragic results."

Jim Binns  -
Binns, who in 2011 was recognized by the Obama administration as a "Champion of Change,"   said in the letter that for the past two years, 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 Gulf War veterans. 

Binns described other VA such as slanting research studies, failing to publish critical research results, disseminating false information to the medical community, manipulating even reports of the Institute of Medicine, and failing to conduct Gulf War studies as ordered by Congress.

While multiple reports by his committee and the Institute of Medicine have "conclusively established" that Gulf War Illness is real and not a psychiatric condition, Binns wrote, the 250,000 veterans suffering from this illness "still have no effective treatments. But instead of seeking treatments, VA is quietly trying to revive the stress theory by fabricating science."

Binns told The Reno Dispatch on Wednesday evening that a new acting secretary or secretary "who comes in from the outside and has to rely on the existing career staff has virtually no hope of becoming aware of, let alone solving, the systemic issues" at the agency.  

As CNN and many other news organizations reported last week, IG found in its interim report that at least 1,700 veterans waiting for their first appointment to see a doctor were never even placed on a wait list. A Phoenix resident, Binns has been closely following the developments there. 

"As inexcusable as the revelations here have been, what VA has been doing to Gulf War veterans for twenty years is far worse," he said. "Instead of middle managers lying to senior officials to get bonuses and cover up that veterans aren't getting care, you have senior officials and middle managers lying to Congress, to veterans, and to the medical community, to purposely deny veterans access to care."  

Binns said he was inspired to write the letter by the example of Dr. Sam Foote, the recently retired VA doctor who was the first whistleblower to reveal what was going on in Phoenix.

"It took a long time before the people who could change things finally paid attention to what he was saying," Binns said. "Our committee has been reporting on VA's abuse of Gulf War veterans for a long time, but now there is hope the right people will finally focus on how VA - our government - has been deliberately shafting a quarter of a million men and women who fought for this country." 

Anthony Hardie, a Gulf War veteran and board member of Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) who's testified numerous times before Congress on Gulf War issues, toldThe Reno Dispatch, "VCS hopes Chairman Binns' letter will help bring new attention to fix yet another area where VA is badly broken: VA's utter failure of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War. For the more then one-third of Gulf War veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness, VA has no effective treatments, no implementation of a plan to develop solutions, no confidence in VA's ability to find treatments, and VA denial of Gulf War veterans' disability claims at an overwhelming rate."

Meanwhile, Binns said that while he has heard back from several House and Senate offices, including those that received copies of the letter, "I have not heard anything from the White House or VA."


Read the full Binns letter here.  

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