Wednesday, September 24, 2014

VA Press Release: VA Secretary McDonald Meets with Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses

VA issued the following press release on September 23, 2014, following VA Secretary Bob McDonald's visit with the RAC.


SOURCE:  VA Press Release, 9/23/2014

VA Secretary McDonald Meets with Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses
Reaffirms Commitment to Researching Gulf War Illness Treatments
WASHINGTON - Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert A. McDonald met today with the Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses. He reaffirmed VA’s commitment to caring for those who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and to continue research into Gulf War Veterans’ Illness.
Secretary McDonald thanked the RAC for their great value to the Department through its advice on research studies, plans, and strategies aimed at improving VA’s ability to serve Gulf War Veterans.  VA’s understanding of Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses has improved because of the research that has resulted from the 2004, 2008, and 2014 RAC reports.  These reports have informed the current strategic plan for Gulf War research for 2013-2017 and have influenced VA’s approach to funding such research.
Secretary McDonald also thanked the long-term members who will be rotating off the committee, including Chairman Jim Binns, who have served nearly 13 consecutive years as of September 2014.  The planned rotation brings the VA in compliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and General Services Administration guidance.  This ensures that fresh and varied perspectives are represented and provided to the agency in an effort to better serve Veterans.
Secretary McDonald also noted that as future members rotate onto the RAC for the two to three year term of service, he will recruit members that continue to engage, energize and rally others to the causes of the Veterans we serve. The RAC’s charter provides that the membership will include members of the medical and scientific communities representing appropriate disciplines such as, but not limited to, epidemiology, immunology, environmental health, neurology, and toxicology.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to ensuring Gulf War Veterans have access to the care and benefits they have earned and deserve.  VA is clear in our commitment to treating these health issues and does not support the notion some have put forward that these health symptoms arise as a result of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other mental health issues that arose as a result of being deployed.
Throughout his travels over the past 50 days, Secretary McDonald has met and listened to Gulf War Veterans. He has reviewed research conducted to date and has worked with committee members to learn about the health consequences of military service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the 1990-1991 Gulf War (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm).
Twenty three years have passed since the start of the deployment and combat operations known as Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  These two military operations comprise the 1990-1991 Gulf War.  Since then, many Veterans of that conflict have endured adverse health consequences. 
VA recognizes and respects the service and dedication of Veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War and is committed to working to improve their health and wellbeing.
In 2009, former Secretary Shinseki directed the formation of the VA Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Task Force, previously led by his Chief of Staff and Gulf War Veteran John Gingrich, to better synchronize Department wide efforts to serve Gulf War Veterans. VA’s current Chief of Staff, Mr. Jose Riojas, also a Gulf War Veteran, continues this work.
Currently, nearly 800,000 Gulf War era Veterans are receiving compensation benefits for service-connected issues.  We continue to provide health care and benefits to these Veterans and to invest in research to understand and treat Gulf War Veterans Illnesses (GWVI), Chronic Multi-Symptom Illness (CMI) and related health areas. 
Gulf War Veterans have made over 2 million outpatient visits for health care and had over 20,000 inpatient admissions in the VA health care system.  In support of care and services to the Veterans of the first Gulf War, VA has led many Federal research efforts to better understand and characterize GWVI and to improve treatment. VA is clear in its commitment to treating these health issues and does not endorse the notion some have put forward that these physical health symptoms experienced by Gulf War Veterans arise as a result of PTSD or other mental health issues from military service.
While VA recognizes the progress that has been made in assisting Gulf War Veterans, we know that much work remains and we are committed to continuing to improve the provision of disability benefits, health care benefits, and other benefits and services to these Veterans.
Expanding Care
In 2010, VA recognized nine new diseases as associated with service in the Gulf War theater, reflecting a determination of positive association between service in the region and those diseases.  VA further revised its regulations to clarify that the medically unexplained illnesses VA presumes to be associated with Gulf War service include functional gastrointestinal disorders and also include other medically unexplained conditions, even if they are not specifically identified in VA regulations.
As a result of statutory direction and Institute of Medicine (IOM) studies, the following are presumptive illnesses for Veterans who served in the Gulf War:

·         Medically unexplained illnesses (popularly called "Gulf War Illness"): This includes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Functional gastrointestinal disorders, and other Undiagnosed illnesses which may be manifested by abnormal weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular symptoms, muscle and joint pain, headache, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, skin conditions, respiratory disorders, and sleep disturbances.
·         9 infectious diseases to include Malaria, Brucellosis, Campylobacter Jejuni, Coxiella Burnetii, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, Nontyphoid Salmonella, Shigella, Visceral Leishmaniasis, and West Nile Virus
Independent and Expert Advice
Research on the health of Gulf War Veterans has been and continues to be a priority for VA.  Secretary Robert A. McDonald values and seeks mechanisms to ensure VA receives independent and expert opinion regarding the care and research needs for GW Veterans.  VA obtains independent and expert opinion through two formal mechanisms: National Academy of Sciences – Institute of Medicine (IOM) studies and the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses.
·         IOM has completed a number of reports that address Gulf War era issues.  Key recommendations include clinical care and research areas addressing exposures and health outcomes.  These reports have provided objective confirmation of statistical associations between exposures and medical conditions and provided guidance for clinical care and research.
·         The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC) established in 2002 has provided advice and made recommendations to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs on proposed research studies, plans, and strategies related to understanding and treating the health consequences of military service during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.  In addition, there are informal processes that add to the research portfolio, including VA researchers, many of who are also clinicians, who may propose research based on their professional experience and judgment as they care for GW Veterans. 

Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses:
The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses (RAC) was formed based on statutory direction issued in Public Law 105-368.  Six of the current members, including the Chairman, Mr. James Binns, were members appointed under that first charter in 2002.
The RAC provides valuable independent advice to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs regarding Gulf War research studies, as well as plans and strategies aimed at improving our ability to serve these Veterans.  RAC input on research studies has led to the addition of numerous research topics to requests for application on specific Gulf War areas of study.
A renewed charter for the RAC was signed in May 2013.  The charter revisions were finalized in the fall of 2012.  The renewed charter includes certain changes to bring the charter more in line with Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requirements and to make the charter more consistent with other VA federal advisory committee charters.  The overall mission of the RAC, which is defined by statute, remains the same. 
Research and other VA Efforts:
VA currently has funded all proposals for GW research that have met scientific and quality merit review standards.  Recent recommendations resulted in additions related to research into biomarkers, imaging diagnostics, and clinical treatment trials.
VA’s Office of Research and Development have placed extra effort on encouraging Gulf War research, resulting in an increase in the number of requested research projects from 13 in 2010 to 32 in 2012.  The funding directly obligated for Gulf War research in ORD has increased from $5.6 million in 2011, to $6.7 million in 2012, to $7.9 million in 2013, to approximately $8.0 million in 2014.
VA released a Gulf War Research Strategic Plan and Gulf War Veterans Illnesses Task Force report which can be found here: 

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