Friday, June 13, 2014

VA Access Scandal Focus Begins to Pivot to Gulf War Veterans

(Veterans for Common Sense & - June 13, 2014) - A Congressional hearing yesterday on the current VA healthcare access scandal shifted focus to Gulf War veterans' health and VA stonewalling there, too.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, probed VA's Acting Undersecretary of Health Dr. Robert Jesse with challenging questions during yesterday's intense Congressional hearing: "Is the VA hiding vital information about a quarter of a million Gulf War veterans who are waiting for care, just as the VA has been hiding information on veteran patient wait times?  Will you provide the committee with all of the Gulf War data within 30 days?", demanded Coffman.
Jesse's stonewalling response led to ever more probing questions by the Colorado Congressman, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who service includes the 1991 Gulf War.
Coffman's Gulf War health research reform bill passed the entire U.S. House of Representatives on May 28, and is currently awaiting action by the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
As a Gulf War veteran, I’ve been extremely disappointed at the actions of VA staff to misdirect Gulf War illnesses research by reviving the scientifically discredited concept that ‘the same thing happens after every war,’ and to eliminate oversight, just as science is finally making some progress,” said Coffman in a USA Today article about the bill.  
According to a article todayChairman Jim Binns of the federal Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Health -- the federal advisory panel with responsibility for Gulf War health research -- said, "that he is hoping the revelations about appointment schedule manipulation across the VA will put more pressure on the department to reveal what it has on Gulf War Illness."
"It is worse than [the wait list issue]. It affects more veterans," Binns told "This is not just delaying care. This is denying care entirely."
In 2012, the Gulf panel chaired by Binns issued a scathing report of "no confidence" in the VA's ability to research or find treatments for Gulf War Illness, reported Veterans News Now, despite numerous scientific panels and experts saying treatments can likely be found.
A Congressional hearing in March 2013 that included testimony by VA whistleblower Dr. Stephen Coughlin was followed by VA retribution against the VA Gulf War panel.  
In June 2013, Gulf War veteran members of the Gulf War panel walked out to protest VA changes, "designed to neuter the panel," reported the Army Times.   The USA Today simultaneously reported that, VA was "gutting [the] Gulf War Illness panel". In a June 30, 2013 article, 91outcomes detailed the issues involved and VA's responses.
In January 2014, USA today reported, that a, "VA doctor says Gulf War vets not getting effective treatments," and that the "Miami [VA] clinic has treated Gulf War illness successfully, but methods have not been disseminated for use in other clinics in the VA system."
A June 9 article by VCS, "242,000 Veterans Waiting, Problems Documented but Unaddressed for 15 Years", documented the extent of the current VA access scandal.
And on June 4, a Reno Dispatch exclusive, "White House Honoree Slams VA, Says Administration’s Investigation Barely Scratches the Surface", covered a letter from Binns to White House, Congressional, and VA officials, and which 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 in the letter, 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.” 
On June 5, after Military Times reported a 4 out of 5 denial rate for Gulf War Illness Claims with only just over 11,000 Gulf War Illness claims approved, Veterans for Common Sense republished, "VA’s Unacceptable 80 Percent Denial Rate of Gulf War Illness Claims – What’s behind the numberswritten by a VCS Board member.   
Binns notes that data in quotes in today's article,  and emphasizes that this denial rate is out of more than 250,000 ill veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.
 "If lying about the wait list is bad, lying about science and falsifying reports is much more serious," Binns told "And the lying goes up and down the organization, to the very top."
-Anthony Hardie

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