Examining VA Implementation of the Persian Gulf War Veterans Act of 1998 and Response by the President of the NGWRC
Examining VA Implementation of the Persian Gulf War Veterans Act of 1998
Nov 15, 2005
Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, will convene an oversight hearing to discuss the implementation of the Persian Gulf War Veterans Act of 1998, specifically regarding the extent to which the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has met the legal mandate to consider research data from animal studies in making determinations about Gulf War-related illnesses in veterans.
Since the Persian Gulf War ended in 1991, more than 125,000 U.S. veterans have complained of illnesses. Many believe they are suffering chronic disabling conditions as a result of wartime exposures to one or more of 33 toxic agents known to be present in the Gulf War theater of operations. Under the 1998 law, VA is required to assess scientific data to determine which illnesses may be associated with wartime toxic exposures.
"The purpose of the law is to give sick veterans the benefit of the doubt about whether wartime service caused subsequent illnesses," Shays said. "But in resisting the use of data from animal studies, VA is missing an opportunity to resolve those doubts in favor of sick veterans who can't wait a decade for epidemiological research to catch up."
The Tuesday, November 15 hearing will convene at 1:00 pm in room 2154 of the Rayburn Building in Washington, D.C.
Committee on Government Reform
Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations
"Examining VA Implementation of the Persian Gulf War Veterans Act of 1998"
(November 15, 2005)
Mr. Mike Woods
Gulf War Veteran
Mr. Steve Robinson
National Gulf War Resource Center, Inc.
Mr. Jim Binns
Chairman, Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses
Dr. Rogene Henderson
Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute
Dr. James P. O'Callaghan
Head, Molecular Neurotoxicology Laboratory
And CDC Distinguished Consultant
Toxicology and Molecular Biology Branch
Health Effects Laboratory Division
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-NIOSH
Dr. Susan Mather
Public Health & Environmental Hazards
Veterans Health Administration
Dr. Mark Brown
Director of the Environmental Agents Service
Department of Veterans Affairs
Mr. Richard J. Hipolit
Assistant General Counsel
Department of Veterans Affairs
Dr. Lynn Goldman
Professor of Occupational and Environmental Health
Department of Environmental Health Sciences
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Institute of Medicine
Dr. Sam Potolicchio
Professor of Neurology
Department of Neurology
The George Washington University Medical Center
Institute of Medicine
Institute of Medicine
Date: Thu, 1 Dec 2005 14:16:18 EST
Subject: NGWRC President's Response to 11-15 Hearing
Thursday, December 01, 2005
The Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations held a hearing on November 15, 2005 to examine the funding for Persian Gulf War veterans illnesses. Work by this subcommittee provided momentum for the passage of the Persian Gulf War Veterans Act of 1998. That law directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to seek independent assessments of possible associations between toxic exposures and the unusual syndromes afflicting many ill veterans. This process was intended to allow the VA to give sick veterans the benefit of the doubt until hard evidence of casualty between wartime exposures and chronic illnesses could be established. The same law initiated the formation of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War illnesses. According to it's charter and the act of Congress that created it, The Research Advisory Committee is to make recommendations regarding medical research on Gulf War illnesses by the U.S. government. The Committee is charged with reviewing previous medical research and other relevant medical knowledge and with making recommendations for future research. The charter directs that the fundamental standard against which the Committee should measure research opportunities is whether the research will make a difference to the health of ill veterans.
Last year, a VA sponsored review by the Institute of Medicine on the effects of low-dose sarin exposure raised questioned whether the statutory mandate to use animal data was being followed. Disappointingly, the IOM committee reported animal studies played only a small role in their assessment. The expert committee found no connection between sub-clinical sarin exposures and human illnesses. Their conclusion epitomized what many veterans believe to be a deeply seeded reluctance in the VA and allied medical institutions to avoid animal data on fundamental questions of disease causation. The refusal to give greater consideration to animal data in Persian Gulf War Veterans Act determinations undercut the basic intent of the law to expand the scope of evidence upon which the VA may have connected today's mysterious illnesses to wartime service fifteen years ago.
Initial studies by the Institute of Medicine focused their research on the study of war-related stress and not the multiple exposures to endemic diseases, vaccines, depleted uranium and chemical warfare agent exposure. It is an established fact that mental health and stress related issues are much less common in Gulf War veterans than veterans of other wars. And they do not explain Gulf War illnesses.
Six hundred and ninety seven thousand American soldiers served in the Persian Gulf War. According to the most recent Department of Veterans affairs study, twenty-five percent of them are ill with chronic multisymptom illnesses; many have service-connected auto-immune base illnesses. More Gulf War veterans are ill today than all the American troops serving in Iraq today.
In June, 2003 the Government's own General Accounting Office gave testimony to the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations titled Gulf War Illnesses: Preliminary Assessment of DOD Plume Modeling for U.S. Troops Exposure to Chemical Agents. Gulf war veterans are continuing to file VA disability claims as a result of their long-term, chronic illnesses. Recently, brain cancer was reported to be twice as likely to occur in Gulf War veterans than the general population and diagnosis of auto-immune illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease are on the rise.
On 16 November, 2005, the Veterans Administration announced 12 new research projects to better understand illnesses affecting Gulf War veterans. The estimated cost of these projects is estimated to be $5.2 million dollars over three years, with $1.7 million approved for Fiscal Year 2006. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Honorable R. James Nicholson, said "VA will continue to address the unique health care needs of our Gulf War veterans. This research should lead to better health care funding for veterans suffering from a variety of conditions." However, the initial funding of $84,000 will pay for the first year of a pilot program to test the effects of prolonged stress on the body's ability to respond to future stress, infection and injury. Yet science has already determined that stress cannot explain the illnesses many Gulf War veterans have experienced since their deployments to the Persian Gulf.
This year the VA initiated three new IOM Gulf War Reports. They were not reviewed by the Research Advisory committee, as required by the 1998 statute. Again, these reports exclude animal studies in the documents the committee could review.
The Board of the National Gulf War Resource Center, Inc. joins Research Advisory Committee Chairman Jim Binns in his call for this matter to be investigated. Indeed, the Board of the NGWRC calls for a Special Prosecutor be assigned to review the actions and inaction of the VA to manipulate science and thereby prevent veterans from receiving treatment compensation and recovery options.
President, National Gulf War Resource Center, Inc. 8605 Cameron Street, Suite 400 Silver Spring, MD 20910 800.882.1316 x 162 206.948.2908
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