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Friday, January 17, 2014

Click to Support S. 1950, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014


Please take a moment to click on this link:


...to instantly send your 2 U.S. Senators and Congressman/Congresswoman your support for S. 1950, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014, which would provide:

*Fully restore military retirement cost-of-living adjustments that were outrageously reduced in the 2013 House-Senate budget agreement and the subsequent appropriations act.

*Extension of advance appropriations authority to more accounts (beyond health care) in Dept. of Veterans Affairs accounts to ensure that in any government shutdown environment in the future, veterans benefits payments would not be delayed or put in jeopardy.

*Authorization for in-state tuition rates at any public college or university for all student veterans using the new GI Bill, regardless of where they live.

*Honoring as veterans certain career Reserve members eligible for reserve retired pay.

*Authorization for Iraq and Afghanistan surviving spouses to the Post-9/11 GI Bill via the “Gunnery Sgt. John D. Fry Scholarship Program”.

*Retention of DIC by eligible widows who remarry at age 55.

*Improved care and services for veterans who who experienced military sexual trauma.

*Extension of VA health care enrollment opportunity for OIF-OEF veterans from 5 to 10 years.

*Renewal of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act veterans retraining assistance program.

*Requirement for more timely claims backlog reporting and new rules for VA reports on claims processing efforts, to increase transparency about the ongoing backlog problem.

*Improved treatment services for veterans

*An expansion of VA alternative medicine offerings and research, in response to concerns about overmedication of wounded veterans.

*A pilot project to expand dental care within the VA system.

*A two-year extension to the Veterans Training Assistance Program.

*An expansion of fertility services for service-injured veterans.

*Provide additional financial support to survivors of service members who die in the line of duty, as well as expanded access for them to GI Bill educational benefits.

*Solve a 2+-year stalemate in VA’s authority to lease facilities for health care treatment and other purposes.

..."These are but a few of the myriad provisions of this bill that would improve the lives, health, and prospects of veterans—especially the wounded, injured and ill—and their loved ones, if enacted into law." -DAV

***

SOURCES: DAV, Stars and Stripes, MOAA.

MOAA: Announces Support of S.1950, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014

SOURCE:  MOAA
http://www.prweb.com/releases/2014/01/prweb11501205.htm

ARCHIVED TEXT:

MOAA Announces Support of S.1950, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014

MOAA appreciates the inclusion of a provision in S. 1950 that repeals the unfair 1% COLA Cut of the earned pensions of working age military retirees established in the Balanced Budget Act and a number of other major MOAA priorities for veterans the legislation addresses.

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Defending Military Compensation MOAA President Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, Jr, USN (Ret) appeared on the PBS NewsHour program on January 2nd to discuss proposed changes to military compensation. (images by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour)
This legislation, based primarily on the bi-partisan Senate Veterans Benefits Omnibus, S. 944, offers comprehensive and much needed solutions for our returning warriors, veterans, survivors and family members,” MOAA President Vice Adm Norb Ryan said.
Alexandria, VA (PRWEB) January 17, 2014
Military Officers Association of America (MOAA)announces its support of the Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act, S.1950, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.
“This legislation, based primarily on the bi-partisan Senate Veterans Benefits Omnibus, S. 944, offers comprehensive and much needed solutions for our returning warriors, veterans, survivors and family members,” MOAA President Vice Adm Norb Ryan said.
“MOAA deeply appreciates the inclusion of a provision in S. 1950 that repeals the unfair 1% COLA Cut of the earned pensions of working age military retirees established in the Balanced Budget Act,” he added.
The legislation also addresses a number of major MOAA priorities for veterans including: 
  • Extension of advance appropriations authority to more accounts (beyond health care) in Dept. of Veterans Affairs accounts
  • Authorization for in-state tuition rates at public colleges for all student veterans using the new GI Bill
  • Honoring as veterans certain career Reserve members eligible for reserve retired pay
  • Authorization for Iraq and Afghanistan surviving spouses to the Post-9/11 GI Bill via the “Gunnery Sgt. John D. Fry Scholarship Program”
  • Retention of DIC by eligible widows who remarry at age 55
  • Improved care and services for veterans who were sexually assaulted in military service
  • Extension of VA health care enrollment opportunity for OIF-OEF veterans from 5 to 10 years
  • Renewal of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act veterans retraining assistance program
  • Requirement for more timely claims backlog reporting
“These and other measures provide a strong foundation for our nation’s veterans after more than a dozen years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Ryan stated.
“MOAA is very appreciative of the growing support in both chambers to repeal the grossly unfair COLA cut on earned military retirees’ pensions. The means of accomplishing that objective is up to leaders in both parties and we strongly support a bi-partisan solution as soon as possible to restore the full pensions of those who have dearly earned them in service to the nation,” Ryan concluded.
About MOAA:
Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) is the nation’s largest officers association with more than 380,000 members from every branch of service, including active duty, retired, National Guard, Reserve, and former officers and their families and survivors. MOAA is a nonprofit and politically nonpartisan organization and an influential force in promoting a strong national defense. MOAA represents the interests of service members and their families in every stage of their lives and careers, and for those who are not eligible to join MOAA, Voices for America’s Troops is a
nonprofit MOAA affiliate that supports a strong national defense. For more information, visit http://www.moaa.org orhttp://www.voicesfortroops.org/.
Members of the news media who wish to be added to our media distribution list for MOAA news releases, please contact requestnews@moaa.org. Visit MOAA’s Multimedia & Press Room at http://www.moaa.org/media/default.htm.
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STARS AND STRIPES: S. 1950 covers wide range of veterans issues, including repeal of COLA cuts for retirees

SOURCE:  Stars and Stripes (Leo Shane reporting)
http://www.stripes.com/bill-covers-wide-range-of-veterans-issues-including-repeal-of-cola-cuts-for-retirees-1.262662


ARCHIVED TEXT:

Bill covers wide range of veterans issues, including repeal of COLA cuts for retirees

WASHINGTON -- Congress could go from passing no major veterans legislation this session to passing every idea at once.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., this week introduced a wide-ranging package of veterans legislation, covering changes to the GI Bill, survivors’ benefits, advanced appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs and fertility treatments for wounded veterans.
In remarks Thursday, Sanders called the measure “the product of a year of bipartisan work” and maintains it “addresses virtually every single issue the veterans community has been concerned about.”
Even the bill’s title is lengthy: the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefit and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has moved to advance the legislation after next week’s congressional recess.
But its prospects for passage remain murky, largely due to the inclusion of a repeal of military retirement cost-of-living cuts passed in the recent budget deal.
The cut – a 1 percent reduction in the annual COLA adjustment for military retirees under 62 -- has rankled veterans advocates and drawn promises of repeal from both sides of the aisle.
But lawmakers have not come to any consensus on how to offset about $6 billion in savings from the cut. Sanders’ bill doesn’t spell out where the money would come from either. That’s expected to be clarified when the measure comes to the Senate floor for consideration.
Republicans in both chambers have resisted efforts to absorb more spending without equal savings. But they have also supported a number of provisions in Sanders’ massive veterans bill, meaning it still could move through both chambers in some form.
Veterans groups have offered support for most of the provisions in the bill, but were still going through the details Friday before offering a public endorsement.
Among those items:
  • New rules for VA reports on claims processing efforts, to increase transparency about the ongoing backlog problem.
  • In-state tuition at any public university for all veterans using GI Bill benefits, regardless where they live.
  • Improved treatment services for veterans who experienced military sexual trauma.
  • An expansion of VA alternative medicine offerings and research, in response to concerns about overmedication of wounded veterans.
  • A pilot project to expand dental care within the VA system.
  • A two-year extension to the Veterans Training Assistance Program.
  • An expansion of fertility services for service-injured veterans.
The House and Senate return to work Jan. 27.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

VICTORY FOR GULF WAR VETERANS: Congress Says Yes, Will Fund Gulf War Illness CDMRP for Another Year


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.  

http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20140113/113-HR3547-JSOM-C.pdf


Saturday, January 11, 2014

AP: VA Under Fire for Proposed Disability Filing Rule

SOURCE:  Associated Press (AP), Kevin Freking reporting
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/va-fire-proposed-disability-filing-rule-21497538



ARCHIVED ARTICLE:

VA Under Fire for Proposed Disability Filing Rule

For veterans seeking disability compensation, the application process is supposed to be so easy that a handwritten note on a napkin will initiate a claim or an appeal.
An Obama administration proposal would change that, and veterans groups are sounding the alarm.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says the many ways that requests for disability compensation arrive actually hamper its ability to administer benefits, and contribute to a claims backlog that has about 400,000 veterans waiting more than 125 days for a decision.
At times, workers spend so much time trying to figuring out what's being claimed and trading letters with applicants that it's slowing down decisions for everyone.
The VA's solution would require veterans to use a standard form when they file for disability compensation or appeal a decision, and the agency would throw in some incentives for those who use a computer.
The response to the proposed rule from the nation's major veterans groups?
"Draconian" and "heavy-handed," said the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"A seismic change" that will "poison" the disability claims process, according to the American Legion.
"The most serious, egregious attack on a veteran-friendly disability claim system in VA history," contended the law firm of Bergmann & Moore, which specializes in pursuing disability claims.
The critiques recently submitted in response to the proposed regulation point to one of the sharpest policy disagreements that veteran groups have had with the administration.
Both camps generally have agreed on the need to transform how disability claims are managed; namely, the need to move to a computer system instead of relying on paper records to track a veteran's injuries, illnesses and service.
So far, the burden has been on the VA to transform. The proposal would place more of the burden on the veteran.
"VA believes that using a standard form is a minimal burden to place on claimants," the proposed rule states.
But for veterans, a major advantage of the current system is that once the VA makes its decision, benefits generally accrue back to when a veteran first initiated his or her claim, usually months and sometimes years earlier.
Submitting what are referred to as "informal claims" has become a standard practice for veterans because it locks in the effective date of their claim even as they gather supporting evidence such as military records and doctor's exams for the more formal application. Then, if the application is approved, the veteran often ends up getting a sizable lump-sum payment in addition to a monthly award.
Under the proposal, the first communication from a veteran may not trigger anything. Those veterans who put their claims in writing would have to completely fill out a standard form, and the clock that determines how far back the government will pay, won't begin ticking until the VA receives the successfully completed form.
The veterans groups say it's perfectly reasonable for the VA to use a standard form to enhance efficiency. But they worry that the time it takes to gather records and successfully complete the standard form could lead to substantially less money for veterans. They worry that the omission of a single entry could take months to resolve.
"A combat veteran of two tours in Iraq is defeated by a bureaucratic requirement to fill in all the boxes of a claim form," said the VFW's William Bradshaw in the organization's formal response.
They argue that veterans who are the most vulnerable — the homeless, those with traumatic brain injury and those with a limited education — would have the most trouble meeting the new standard.
The VA is trying to get more veterans to file disability claims electronically, so it will maintain a more relaxed standard for those who use its computer system. Even if the form is incomplete, the veteran will have a full year to finish it, and the VA still will consider the initial unfinished submission as the starting date for when benefits accrue.
But the veterans groups oppose that approach. They said that such favorable treatment for computer users ignores that millions of veterans, particularly the elderly, don't have computers or ready access to the Internet.
The VA said that veterans who don't have a computer can go to the closest VA facility to get help. It said numerous veteran organizations can also assist in filing claims electronically.
The VA said it has no fixed timeline for issuing a final rule. If the VA goes ahead with the regulation, it would take effect 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

Friday, January 10, 2014

DAVID WINNETT: "A Prayer for the Falling Gulf Warrior"

The following is a poem by David Winnett, a retired Marine Corps Captain and service-disabled veteran of the 1991 Gulf War who now lives in Texas.  He serves on the Integration Panel of the Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP). 


***


"A Prayer for the Falling Gulf Warrior"

He stands six foot three; she's not much more than five foot or so,
They've got everything in common,
And many other traits where they share no resemblance at all, from their head to their toes,
But what sets them apart yet makes them as one,
They're America's warriors;
America's daughter, America's son,
In a brief few words you could simply call them a couple of rough and tumble sons of guns,
They once dared you to a race, and beat you every time,
If you pointed them to a mountain that had never been topped, they'd plant Old Glory on its peak, at the end of their climb,
You'd give em a mission with impossible odds,
They'd get it done, and in no time be back asking you for another, a more challenging one,
Without reservation, hesitation or second thought, they're the best of America, the absolute cream of the crop,
But as much as they're appreciated while in uniform, it's so sad that far too often when these warriors come home,
Americans soon forget what they've done for freedom, very often in a deadly combat zone,
The rigors of combat cannot be put into words, or expressed with an appropriate level of accuracy that would allow the listener to see,
Unseen are the gore and horror that the warrior eye has viewed so very graphic and close,
Unappreciated goes the lasting emotional pain of seeing a fellow warrior die, often right here at home, a friend that the warrior loved much more than most,
Blind are Americans to the illnesses that live deep in the tissue of many otherwise healthy looking young men,
It's so sadly easy to turn the other way after telling the warrior to keep a stiff upper lip and hold up his chin,
"Don't worry" they say, "It's all in your head", "Move on with your life, otherwise your negative outlook is sooner or later going to kill you dead",
What they don't understand about the woman and the man, the warriors who demonstrated unequaled acts of bravery in a very hostile land,
Are the horrible man made toxins and various wares of modern war, the kinds of things the world has never seen on the battlefield before,
For all intents and purposes these warriors are walking dead,
What's painfully true now without any shadow of a doubt,
They're god damned right, it's all in our heads!  Their cluelessness makes me want to scream and shout!
As we slowly pass away at such a tragic young age, the VA doesn't care to take roll call to see who's alive or who among us are dead,
They'd just as soon continue to paint us all as maligerers, lazy old Veterans who just want a monthly check, a high def TV, and a nice cozy bed,
They tell the media that we're just the "Entitlement Crowd",
They believe we're void of morals, and that we're just a bunch of fakers who whine and moan too loud,
More that a quarter million Gulf Warriors are deathly ill,
We've buried thousands of our dead in countless cemeteries on countless hills,
Yet the attitude we still see in government is apathetic at best,
These clueless bastards - I'll let you fill in the rest ______,
So the VA sets up a committee for appearances sake,
Masters so they think in the realm of PR,
Telling lie after lie has sadly brought them this far,
They study us in graphs and flow charts all day long,
Then at night they sit casually in a swanky DC bar and grill, and talk about what to do, over a juicy ribeye steak and a glass of wine that's perfectly chilled,
And for twenty years and three this circus goes on, 
They bring their act and their clowns back to town; rain, snow, sleet or hail, as often as their per diem and travel pay checks arrive on time in the mail,
But for the sick Veterans this endless talk with very little action has become unbearably stale,
Once in a while a few of their committee members get out of line,
By daring to speak frankly, to speak their candid mind,
That's when the thought police arrive swiftly from the very top floor,
Then comes the boot in the ass; a thankless kick out the back alley door,
Daring to respectfully question the motives of the man on the top floor is a sure fire recipe that you won't be serving Veterans any more,
So shame on the VA Secretary and his morally bankrupt "Yes man" goons,
For shaming and dismissing the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of men and women who once valiant served in harms way,
Only to be abandoned and publicly scorned to this very day,
We Veterans pray together nightly that justice will one day prevail,
And that those who disenfranchised us will pay dearly for their cruelty and spite,
That karma will visit with each of them with unmerciful might,
We pray that God will intervene and help Gulf War Veterans to prevail in this, our final and most brutal of fights.

David K. Winnett, Jr. 

CAPTAIN, USMC (Ret.)

KEITH NORDENG: What the VA Secretary Must Do to Help Ill Gulf War Veterans

The article below was submitted by Keith Nordeng, a service-connected Gulf War veteran from Harrisburg, Penn.  

***

I first would like to thank those who have served for so many years on the service of the Gulf War Vet on the Research Advisory Committee.

My name is Keith Nordeng. I’m only one of a multitude of ill veterans that had served in the Gulf region during 1990 to 1991. My voice is but one, but hopefully echoes for all of my fellow brothers and sisters that had served in the Persian Gulf theater of operations.

We as a group suffer from a myriad amount of physical problems ranging from cancers to pre-Alzheimer’s like symptoms. We advocate for ourselves daily in hopes that a few primary care physicians’ will realize that we do suffer from real physical injuries due to our service in the Gulf.

I for one have asked many physicians including those in the offices of environmental exposures in 3 hospitals located within VISN 4 of their knowledge of Gulf War Illness. Some of the replies have been “Your to old to have served in Iraq or Afghanistan”, Or you can take the Gulf War Exam as that is all that is offered. When I spoke to the Director of Environmental Exposures at the Philadelphia VAMC about the pocket guide to Gulf War Illnesses, that physicians are supposed to carry, her reply was that she ordered them in Jan 2012 but had never received the cards. This incident was in July 2013. My personal physician went through a 1 hour seminar conducted at the Coatesville VAMC on Gulf War Illness but she had thrown the card in a cabinet and she couldn’t find it anymore..

We know we will never know what specifically caused Gulf War Illness within our lifetime or any other lifetime as there are to many variables that have to be reproduced. Nor will there ever be a magic pill in the treatment due to its extensive symptoms which aren’t confined to CFS, IBS, Fibro or the other unexplained illnesses presented in the presumptive, which the Sec of VA has stated in the federal register of April 11, 2011 that there will be no new presumptive issued for Gulf War Illness.
With the research on Gulf War illness there shows a definite medical problem within the Gulf War veterans. WE ARE SICK. Granted there will never be a magic cure all, we do hope that there will be a better understanding of the illness in the near future as we are in deed in the last hour and minutes of the fight.

This will only happen from very strong, dynamic leadership from within VA. We the veteran demand from the Veterans Administration action on its part to improve quality of health with special emphasis on direct treatments of the Gulf War veteran using the recommendations arrived at from the Research Advisory Committee. This can only begin with the Secretary of the VA down through to include the middle entrenched beaurocrats to the local primary care physicians. 

I would also ask that the Gulf War veterans support the petition to keep a strong and dynamic leader such as Mr. Binns on as the Chairman of the Research Advisory Committee, for he has shown the leadership qualities that are and have been lacking in the fight for the Gulf War veteran from within and out of the Veterans Affairs.

I would like to remind the VA that the system is for the veteran imparted to the veteran through Congressional enactment and that it is answerable to the veteran and all citizens of this great nation. 

I now challenge all that are within the VA to do what is right and provide the veterans of the Gulf War and all other veterans of all era’s with the modern health care that we the Gulf War Veteran have earned and deserve.

WE served our nation!

-Keith Nordeng

Thursday, January 9, 2014

ANTHONY HARDIE: What VA Leadership Needs to Do for Gulf War Veterans


Written by Anthony Hardie, Gulf War veteran.

For nearly seven years until last Summer, I served on the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses (RAC) as a representative Gulf War veteran suffering from Gulf War Illness, a complex disorder with neurological and immunological components brought about by toxic exposures during the 1991 Gulf War and which now affects roughly one-third of the 697,000 veterans of that war.  

I also continue to serve with the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP), helping to steer its course through my role on the program's Integration Panel.  In that role, I've reviewed virtually every one of many hundreds of research proposals that have been submitted for funding since the program begin in Fiscal Year 2006, and have fought hard every year since with fellow Gulf War veterans, allies, and our friends in Congress to fund the program each year.  Through that role, I've been able to see what real treatment-oriented research and a genuine treatment-focused treatment program looks like, which has helped to make increasingly clear how broken VA's Gulf War Illness research effort really is.  

During my tenure on the RAC, I did my best to represent my fellow ill Gulf War veterans, respectfully providing the wisest and most representative comments I could to VA during our discussion and in our reports, spending many hundreds of hours reading research publications and relevant medical textbooks, and spending countless time talking with researchers and ill Gulf War veterans to provide the best possible insight to VA and the other members of the panel.   

As part of that effort, I also served as the sole Gulf War veteran on a VA's Gulf War Steering Committee, a committee created by VA staff composed of five members of VA's National Research Advisory Council and four members of the RAC.  None of its meetings were public and it was never clear to me how that this advisory body didn't fall under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).  However, I trusted VA staff to be doing the right thing as we worked diligently in Washington and via teleconference in a myriad of meetings of the full committee and many drafting subcommittees to create a first-ever Gulf War Illness Research Strategic Plan.

When the plan was complete in early 2012, after around 18 months of work, we didn't hear anything back for quite some time. Then suddenly, in May 2012, we heard back from VA that it had unilaterally and substantively edited the consensus-based plan.   This was just shortly before the next schedule RAC meeting in June 2012, to be held in Boston.  

In reviewing the VA staff edits to the plan, made without consultation of any of the many advisors who had worked so hard to create it via consensus -- no small achievement for any working group on any topic and even more so on a topic as difficult as Gulf War Illness -- it became apparent that the edits were essentially a terrible whitewash of the document.  

The RAC responded strongly at its June meeting, most of us still in shock at the turn of events and a return to a much darker time in dealing with VA.  Some might even characterize that response explosive, given the anger at having been convinced ever so slyly by VA staff to work so hard to create that consensus plan, only to see it whitewashed and many of its most important recommendations changed beyond recognition.  The RAC issued a series of recommendations reading the report, called for VA to return to the January 2012 version of the plan, and unanimously issued a "no confidence" finding in, "the ability or demonstrated intention VA staff to formulate and execute an effective VA Gulf War illness research program."  

The RAC then saw meeting after meeting cancelled.  Despite a regular schedule of three meetings per year, the RAC was not allowed to meet again until a full year later, in June 2013.  

As will be discussed in a little more detail shortly, two of the three of us Gulf War veterans resigned from the RAC last June in protest of VA not listening, in the hopes of raising awareness of the many serious issues that VA continue to fail to address. 

Now, following this week's meeting of the RAC, I have been made privy to some discussion about VA's Dr. Robert Jesse suggesting new moves related to restarting the VA's Gulf War newsletter.  

The last time VA restarted the newsletter was after I made it a key point in my July 2007 Congressional testimony. Here's what I said about the newsletter then:
"It is stunning that after nearly two decades, we still have little information to provide to Gulf War veterans who remain ill from their service.  
It is true that VA does still have an open door for Gulf War veterans to be seen at VA medical facilities. 
However, being seen is not the same thing as being treated. 
The VA’s Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards website contains little information that might be of any use to ill Gulf War veterans or their health providers. Much of the information provided is dated between 1996 and 2001, years before the more recent research discoveries related to ill Gulf War veterans that affirm what Gulf War veterans have been saying all along – that their Gulf War exposures are what made them ill. 
In July 2006, the VA’s “Gulf War Review” included an article entitled, “Straight from the Source: VA’s Environmental Agents Service is Serious About Communicating With Veterans.” That issue, a year ago, was the last issue published."

[FOR THE FULL TEXT, SEE: http://veterans.house.gov/witness-testimony/mr-anthony-hardie ]

VA staff scrambled to respond to the Congressional committee regarding this issue.  They lied (again) at that hearing and said the next it would be published shortly after the hearing -- but then didn't publish the next issue for nearly a full year thereafter, not until May 2008.

The present VA leadership inexplicably allowed the newsletter to die yet again after last publishing it in July 2010. Should they restart it? Obviously yes -- but they don't deserve praise for fixing something they themselves allowed to break.  Sadly, the staff issues at VA remain a problem, and like the last Administration, the present VA leadership has failed to fix them. Administrations come and go, but the problem career staff at VA headquarters remain entrenched in place, like the problems they create.

But the newsletter is really a side show, and most of the research news on GWI comes from outside the VA's failed research efforts.  The real core issue for VA leadership to address with regards to the RAC, from my 2009 Congressional testimony, is this:


"When will VA begin a treatment-focused research program -- as called for in the more than a decade-old Persian Gulf War Veterans Act of 1998 -- that is based on alleviating the known health effects associated with the known toxic exposures of the 1991 Gulf War? VA officials note in this press release, “The IOM report noted that the illnesses seen in Gulf War Veterans cannot be ascribed to any psychiatric disorder and likely result from genetic and environmental factors,” yet not one of these new expensive new studies focuses on environmental or genetic factors that caused 250,000 Gulf War veterans’ illnesses."


[THE FULL TEXT IS HERE: http://archives.democrats.veterans.house.gov/hearings/Testimony.aspx?TID=72712&Newsid=601&Name=+Anthony++Hardie ]

This is a journey on which VA has barely begun to embark, nearly five years after that very public testimony.  

It's not that VA leadership hasn't been advised -- repeatedly -- on what needs to be done. That advice has been provided respectfully and repeatedly in closed door meeting after meeting with top VA leadership, in RAC report after report, in Congressional testimony upon Congressional testimony at hearing after hearing at which senior VA staff are present. It's that they have failed and continue to fail to do it. 

The Research Advisory Committee is about *Research* -- nothing more, nothing less -- and before the despicable charter changes signed into effect last May, it was aimed at improving the health and lives of ill Gulf War veterans. There are those who would like to direct attention elsewhere and make the VA look better. However, current VA leadership have done nothing to merit reducing Gulf War veterans' critical scrutiny -- and in fact have left things much worse then before this Administration started... and I'm a lifelong Democrat with strong involvement in Obama's campaigns, so my comments are the furthest thing from partisan in nature.

Some are now trying to suggest that confrontation with VA is bad.  I wrote above about the roots of what VA staff have done that led to the RAC becoming increasingly confrontational with a very broken VA, and they were provided in more detail in a May 29, 2013 letter from RAC Chair Jim Binns.  Confrontation isn't bad when it's constructive, which it always has been.  It's simply that VA leadership remains deaf to Gulf War veterans' needs.  

Instead of fixing the issues raised in the May 29, 2013 Binns letter, VA staff, backed by the VA Secretary, decided to move forward and gut the RAC's charter.  Along with those very serious changes to the RAC charter, they decided to sweep out the old for new people, perhaps in the hopes that some might be more willing to "sing kumbaya" rather than rock the boat and actually raise substantive issues of needed change in VA's research direction.  

I was told at the time of the charter changes that I had been deemed, "the indispensable veteran" on the RAC, and would be kept on "for continuity".  I reflected on the fact that VA has continued to spin away, whitewash, or simply ignore many of the most important recommendations of the RAC, including nearly all of the January 2012 Gulf War Illness Research Strategic Plan.

I made the very difficult and personal decision that I would not stay in light of VA's gutting of the RAC charter, and that what was truly important was not staying on a neutered RAC "for continuity" as VA wished for me to do, but in continuing to do whatever I could to help work towards ensuring that Gulf War veterans' needs are met -- and to date, VA had ignored (and still does) nearly all of the RAC's recommendations on how to do this.  At the June 2013 meeting, I announced that I was resigning in protest, and I tried to make it clear that I didn't want to serve on an advisory committee whose advice was simply being ignored by VA. 

Some have tried to belittle the seriousness of the VA's dramatic changes to the RAC's charter, scope, and mission.  The beginnings of the truly serious impact of those charter changes became clear to the public at this week's RAC meeting, when the RAC was forced to scrap a major, entire section of its forthcoming report that would have reviewed the effectiveness of federal Gulf War Illness research efforts, measured by the standard of improving ill Gulf War veterans' health and lives.

Some have even gone on to slanderously suggest that some RAC members were merely trying to hold onto their seats for reasons of personal prestige, suggesting, "there have always been term limits".  To clarify, there have never been limits to how many successive terms a VA Secretary can appoint someone.  Furthermore, all of our terms as RAC members had long expired, but VA staff kept requesting our presence in writing for each successive RAC meeting, while VA leadership continued to not be bothered by anything at all related to the RAC, from recommendations to appointments or reappointments.  And to my knowledge, there was not a single RAC member who was doing anything to try to stay on any longer that invited by VA to do so.

When I hear such statements, I am appalled by the apparent lack of awareness of how seriously and selflessly virtually every RAC member in the last few years has taken their roles, and I'm angered at that the apparent aim of such ill-informed statements is directed at discrediting or otherwise hurting the incredibly dedicated people who have devoted so much of their selfless efforts to serving Gulf War veterans -- at the request of the VA -- through the RAC.  Perhaps it has not been obvious how much additional time and effort virtually every RAC member, scientist and veteran alike, put into fulfilling the seriousness of their charge to help improve the health and lives of ill Gulf War veterans -- at the VA's request.

In contrast to the high ethical standard set by every one of the RAC members in seeking to push the federal government to develop effectives GWI treatments, what is unconscionable is that VA leaders and staff have failed to come even close to meeting that high standard.  VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has failed to appear at even a single RAC meeting in the more than five years he's been in office, and has been entirely unresponsive to the RAC's written recommendations -- a far different VA Secretary on Gulf War health issues from all of his predecessors.

It's time VA leaders like Dr. Robert Jesse get serious about what needs to get done at VA for Gulf War veterans. 

Wondering where to start?

1) The January 2012 version of the Gulf War Illness Research Strategic Plan, developed by a consensus of three advisory bodies including the NRAC, RAC, and Gulf War Steering Committee -- and a couple dozen scientists from inside and outside the VA. To date, VA has done little of what's in the plan, and rewrote and distorted the portion on how a new GWI case definition should be developed to meet their own plans to give it to a psych- and stress-focused IOM panel on "Chronic Multisymptom Illness" (CMI) that seeks to lump all multisymtom illness issues from all eras into one big pot. Imagine the potential of success in finding treatments then.... Next to zero.   SEE:  http://www1.va.gov/RAC-GWVI/VA_draft_strategic_plan.pdf

2) Written testimony submitted by 14 Gulf War veteran leaders. To date, there has been no response and no action.  SEE:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/115956730/Testimony-DAMA-Lost-Records-FINAL

3) My most recent Congressional testimony from March 2013, with a long list of recommendations that included and built on the recommendations in #14, none yet heeded by VA. To date, there has been no response and no action.  SEE: http://veterans.house.gov/witness-testimony/mr-anthony-hardie-0

4) The June 10, 2013 letter from all the Gulf War veterans on the RAC to VA Secretary Shinseki, with a lot of history and recommendations, which built on #2 and #3 above. That letter didn't even merit the courtesy of a VA response, let alone any action on the substantive issues raised in that letter. SEE:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/150958485/RAC-Gulf-War-Veterans-Urgent-Letter-to-Sec-Shinseki-06-10-2013

5) The August 26, 2013 letter from Paul Sullivan and a dozen other Gulf War veteran leaders, many active in this Facebook group, to Dr. Robert Jesse, who was active and vocal in this week's RAC meeting. To date, there has been no response and no action.  SEE:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/197084024/Sullivan-Jesse-Gulf-War-08-26-2013-2

The RAC isn't about claims. It's not about health care delivery. Without property directed research aimed at genuinely monitoring GWV's health and GWI and other symptoms, and VA research aimed at solving what is going on the in brains, nervous systems, and bodies of GWI patients -- none of which VA is doing -- then all the claims information and changes to how health care is provided won't make much difference to anyone.

The RAC is about developing treatments for GWI and any other GW health condition through appropriate *research*, and providing epidemiological monitoring of health outcomes -- including death -- in Gulf War veterans. The VA continues to fail miserably on both of those tasks. When you hear about advances in research treatment, like from Dr. Nancy Klimas, it's because a handful of RAC members worked with our friends in Congress to create the GWI CDMRP, and work hard with grassroots veterans and other supporters each and every year -- battling VA and its allies in DoD -- to ensure it is funded again each year. 

For example, ALS has been shown to have been double the rate in GWV's in the early years after the 1991 Gulf War, and in a much younger population. But to date, "treatments" for ALS only prolong life on average by an additional 4 months in the invariably terminal disease. So, it's all well and good to try to make ALS patients feel "more comfortable" as they're dying a horrible death, but what they really want are *proven effective* treatments that will cure, or at least dramatically slow the course of that disease. To date, that doesn't exist -- only palliative care that tries to make them "more comfortable" as they're dying.

The same goes for GWI. What VA mainly has is palliative care, and band-aids for the symptoms. There are no proven effective treatments yet, though through the GWI CDMRP that work is finally progressing, much of it through animal models which if successful will only generate treatments years from now.

So in other words, I'm pretty firmly of the belief that spending time praising VA for care delivery models or disseminating claims information is pretty far from the former mission of the RAC before it's charter was recently gutted --- to ensure the development of effective treatments for GWI and to measure any VA success by that standard.

In short, if you're looking what needs to be done at VA, there are several items above that may be of use. The newsletter is an obvious and important communications tool to Gulf War veterans, but it's a tiny drop in the bucket of the real meat of what VA needs to fix before there's anything worth VA writing about to even put in that newsletter.

To date, nothing at VA has changed, and it's not because they haven't been given written best practice recommendations on what needs to be done.  

There is only one standard by which VA should ever be judged on its research efforts: is VA providing proven effective treatments for Gulf War Illness to veterans who seek care at VA medical facilities?  

It's time from Dr. Robert Jesse to respond to Gulf War veteran leaders' letter of August 26, 2013 -- not with words, but with substantive action to fix some of the issues raised in that letter. 


Only then does he, or VA, deserve to begin to earn Gulf War veterans' trust.