In a letter to Representative Bob Filner, Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, VCS announces our advocacy agenda for Gulf War veterans for 2009: 1) Research to understand Gulf War illnesses, 2) Research to treat the estimated 175,000 to 210,000 ill Gulf War veterans, 3) Oversight hearing into VA staff who blocked research.
January 15, 2009
The Honorable Bob Filner
Veterans’ Affairs Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
335 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Filner,
Thank you for your continued interest in Gulf War illness research and benefits. VCS hopes that Gulf War illnesses will remain on the Committee’s radar for a potential oversight hearing in 2009. Tomorrow marks the 18th Anniversary of the start of bombing for the first Gulf War, and many veterans are still waiting for treatments and benefits for conditions incurred during to our deployment.
I am the Gulf War veteran who, in 1997 and 1998, personally spearheaded the effort to pass the “Persian Gulf Veterans Act of 1998.” This landmark law created the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC). The new law also mandated research into the connection between Gulf War toxic exposures and the illnesses for the purposes of determining disability benefits. You have been our champion for us dating back to when I first testified about Gulf War illnesses 11 years ago. Your leadership has been essential for us in getting to the bottom of this complicated issue.
For the 111th Congress, our advocacy for Gulf War veterans has two parts.
The first part, we believe, can be addressed by the Health Subcommittee. First, Gulf War veterans urgently need more research to identify effective treatments for the estimated 175,000 to 210,000 Desert Shield and Desert Storm veterans still suffering from Gulf War illnesses. The RAC’s recent report provides specific details. We are also concerned that VA has not prepared or released a Gulf War Veterans Information System (GWVIS) report since February 2008. Veterans, Congress, VSOs, the press have a right to know the impact of the Gulf War deployment on veterans. GWVIS reports are mandated by the “Veterans Health Care Act of 1992” (Public Law 102-585) in identifying Gulf War service members and reporting on various aspects of their VA healthcare and benefit activity. We ask Congress to request that VA resume preparing and releasing the GWVIS report as soon as possible. It was my testimony in 1998 that sparked the creation of VA data collection about Gulf War veterans, and I designed and prepared the report while working at VA from 2000 to 2006. I briefed the RAC about Gulf War illnesses using the GWVIS report.
The second part, we hope, can be handled by the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. We strongly urge Congress to investigate the handful of top VA officials who blocked the scientific literature review into Gulf War illnesses. Specifically, the 1998 law required VA to contract with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to review the scientific literature, specifically including both human and animal studies, to determine whether toxic exposures can cause health effects among our veterans deployed to Southwest Asia during 1990 and 1991. These IOM reviews were to form the basis for determining VA disability benefits. However, a few VA employees appear to have conspired with IOM staff to cook the books and eliminate consideration of critical animal research. Since most research on toxic substances is conducted in animals for ethical reasons, the result has been that the IOM committees have found no connections, and healthcare and benefits for veterans remains very minimal.
Here is the issue we request the Subcommittee to investigate, please. The November 2008 RAC report clearly points out that VA staff blatantly violated the letter and intent of Congress by restricting scientific information considered by the IOM in reports used to determine Gulf War veterans’ benefits. Please see pages 53-55, and page 57 of the RAC report: “In short, IOM’s Gulf War and Health series of reports have been skewed and limited by a restrictive approach to the scientific tasks mandated by Congress, an approach directed by VA in commissioning the reports.”
Veterans for Common Sense urges you to contact Jim Binns, the RAC chair, about this possible criminal activity by a few VA employees. He should be the lead witness for any hearing on the VA-IOM contracts. If the facts show VA officials failed to follow the law and contract with IOM to review animal studies, then both VA and IOM staff be must be held accountable. We believe the contracts need to be re-written, and IOM needs to repeat their literature reviews, as recommended in the RAC report on page 57. VCS has the higest regard for Binns’ diligence and credibility.
In our view, VA Secretary-Designate Eric Shinseki may not be aware that VA compromised the IOM research contracts for Gulf War exposures and illnesses. VA Secretary James Peake’s referral of the recent RAC report linking Gulf War illnesses to deployment to IOM represents the continuation of the current cover-up.
We have two goals related to our request for oversight hearings. Our first goal is for VA to rescind VA’s referral of the recent RAC report to the IOM. VA should consider the RAC report on the merits and respond directly to the RAC. We believe it is inappropriate for VA to outsource advice given by the RAC to the Secretary. VA inaccurately states that the 1998 law requires referring Gulf War research to IOM. The law mandates that IOM review scientific studies for benefits purposes, while creating the RAC to advise the Secretary on scientific research in general.
Our second goal is to investigate and reform VA’s contractual relationship with IOM. Never again should a handful of VA staff be able to block the intent of Congress, the pursuit of scientific research, and the fair determination of VA disability benefits for our veterans. It is noteworthy that it was an IOM report linking Agent Orange exposures to cancer that finally broke two decades of government denial on that topic. The corruption of the IOM process on the Gulf War reports indicates how far these officials have gone to try to block addressing Gulf War illness. Federal government manipulation of the IOM is a serious violation of public trust going far beyond this issue.
I wrote my first letter to Congress about this issue in 1992. Congress made tremendous strides with the “Persian Gulf Veterans Act of 1998.” And the RAC continued to make significant progress with the release of their report late last year. VCS looks forward to working with the Committee on this important issue so our Gulf War veterans receive answers as to why we are ill and how we can get better. We look forward to seeing you at your Town Hall meeting on January 27, 2009.
Veterans for Common Sense