DISAMBIGUATION NOTICE: This is the webpage for Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), a non-profit national veterans organization based in Washington, DC – not to be confused with the, “Veterans Coalition for Common Sense,” or, “Florida Veterans for Common Sense,” or the, “Florida Veterans for Common Sense Fund,” which are distinct groups unrelated to VCS.  Read more about us (VCS) here.  

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Veterans for Common Sense Letter to VA Regarding Predatory Corporate Schools

SUBJECT: Commonsense Suggestions re: 38 USC 3696

June 18, 2020

Dear Under Secretary Lawrence,

On April 9, Veterans for Common Sense was among 33 veterans organizations that co-signed the attached letter to Secretary Wilkie regarding improper GI Bill payments to ineligible colleges, especially those that should not be approved for GI Bill under 38 U.S.C. 3696.

In that letter, we collectively provided the following commonsense recommendations to the Secretary to help determine whether schools in violation of 38 U.S.C. 3696 have demonstrated sufficient “corrective action” to restore GI Bill eligibility:

  • Faced sufficient deterrence commensurate with the harm against veterans;
  • Is a repeat law-offender;
  • Put in place an independent auditor to verify future recruiting and advertising practices;
  • Replaced the executives responsible for the illegal conduct;
  • Removed pressure on recruiters to enroll students at all costs; and
  • Undergone a risk-based review by the State Approving Agency.

Also attached is a fact sheet entitled, “Many Corporate School Chains Repeatedly Settled Lawsuits for Misleading Advertising, High-Pressure Recruiting, and False Certifications.”  This fact sheet was developed by Veterans Education Success, which we have been proud to closely partner with since its inception and continue to very strongly support in collaborative efforts to preserve and enhance veterans’ federally-funded education programs and to protect veterans from predatory entities and practices.  As the title of the fact sheet implies, it shows that many of these schools under consideration are repeat offenders in these regards.

As the Department of Veterans Affairs makes these crucial determinations relative to protecting veterans from these predatory institutions, we want to take this opportunity to again highlight these recommendations and the attached documents.

Thank you for your reasoned consideration of these matters, which stand to impact countless veterans.

On behalf of Veterans for Common Sense and with appreciation for your efforts on behalf of veterans,

-Anthony

Anthony Hardie,
National Chair & Director
Veterans for Common Sense
1140 3rd St. NE, Spc 2138
Washington, DC 20002-6274
www.VeteransforCommonSense.org

 

 

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Open Letter from Veterans for Common Sense

Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans organization, has issue an open letter in the wake of the George Floyd murder and the threatened invocation of the Insurrection Act. We invite all who have served in the U.S. military and agree to sign on to this letter, below.

Read the letter and add your signature.

The final letter will be published listing all those who have joined in signing it.

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Veterans for Common Sense Among 7 Organizations Calling for Improved VA Testing for COVID-19

WASHINGTON, DC — Veterans for Common Sense is among seven veterans advocacy and service organizations that this week wrote Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie regarding testing, screening, and communications related to the COVID-19 virus.

In the letter, the organizations wrote,

“While we recognize the unique challenges VA faces with this pandemic, these and related issues are deeply concerning given that millions of our nation’s veterans rely on VA medical care – including and even more so during these difficult times.  We therefore encourage you to take the steps necessary to quickly ensure a more unified national approach by VA that addresses these and related issues.  Most especially, we encourage you to quickly take the necessary steps to ensure VA provides a clearly articulated and viable path for every veteran who needs testing for the COVID-19 virus, a clear response regarding those veterans who are turned away, and what specific actions VA will take to ensure that veterans who present with symptoms are immediately tested rather than turned away.  We appreciate your leadership during these difficult times and look forward to hearing the results of these necessary changes from the veterans we represent.

The letter came after a report released last week by the VA Inspector General that found only one VA facility in the U.S. had the capacity to process COVID-19 tests and that expanding that capacity would help flatten VA’s curve. COVID-19 has been a wrecking ball. It’s taken lives, broken families, and disrupted every facet of our lives. But we can’t allow ourselves to give into desperation. We need to face these challenges head on, and part of doing that is appreciating the things we do have rather than wallow in what we’ve lost. In the case of this disease, and any other major crisis, you should always be looking for things to appreciate. Yes, social distancing has been hard, but for many of us it’s also been an opportunity to bond with family members in new ways. We’ve had to rely on each other to get through this and forge even stronger bonds than ever. Some of us have been helping our neighbours who can’t get out for one reason or another or have been on the receiving end of that help. This is a beautiful thing, this crisis has shown who we are as Christians. Many of us have also had the chance to catch up on projects around the house, to start new hobbies, or even just gain a new perspective on what we appreciate and enjoy in life. As many of our typical distractions and chores fall away, we’ve been able to focus in on what matters, what really makes us happy. No matter how terrible the situation, there are always traces of God’s grace and goodness to be found. Every day is a gift, no matter what obstacles face us, so focus on the things that make you happy, that show you God’s love for us, and treasure them. Find joy wherever you can and take that attitude forward as we move out of this crisis and back towards normality. You can get more detail about C4i Blog to visit here.

A story published today by Fox News (“VA hospitals lack adequate coronavirus testing, protocol…“) reported:

The specialized division within the Department of Veterans Affairs launched an investigation at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. in which their officials went undercover as they looked into the preparedness throughout hundreds of VA hospitals and other health care facilities.

They alleged in their report, “OIG Inspection of Veterans Health Administration’s COVID-19 Screening Processes and Pandemic Readiness”, that while a majority of the facilities were able to conduct swab tests for the virus, they were not able to screen the samples on-site. In fact, only one facility, VA Palo Alto in California, is able to get test results processed on the premises.

One facility leader told OIG investigators that having the ability to test samples on-site would shorten result times. It’s believed that the short turn around in time would help in flattening the curve of infected veterans.

“One Facility estimated that specimen processing time could be reduced from several days down to four hours by processing at an on-site laboratory,” reads a line from the report.

Out of the 125 outpatient facilities visited by investigators, a robust 97 percent were able to screen for COVID-19, but only 71 percent were found to be adequate. Four facilities were found to have no readiness plan in place and did not screen patients or ask them if they were feeling any of the symptoms associated with the coronavirus. ….

Our concern is the lack of action, these are procedural concerns that can save the lives of our Veterans,” Rosie Torres, founder of veteran advocacy group Burn Pits 360 said to Fox News. “Our overarching concern is that actual testing was given short shrift coverage in this report.” ….

Burn Pits 360 along with several other veterans’ organizations like Veterans for Common Sense, recently sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in which they addressed their concerns regarding the OIG’s findings. They also underscored how the lack of preparedness has already affected veterans across the country, including a former drill sergeant in Oklahoma City who verbally screened positive on his phone call with VA but was unable to get tested for three days. He remains ill and is self-treating with a wife at home who is battling cancer. He fears that he could infect her due to her compromised immune system.

It also includes one veteran in Gainesville, Fla., who was screened and to date, has been refused treatment; and a Gulf War veteran in Portland, Oregon who was refused entry to the VA emergency room due to having ADI-trained service dog.

“The report indicates an inadequate communication system, a lack of a unified national VA outreach guidance campaign addressing symptoms, concerns, and screening procedures such as how to get tested,” Torres says adding that the OIG report does not address the VA’s outmoded screening questions.

“They have been asking, ‘Have you traveled to China or Iran,’ rather than, ‘Have you traveled to a U.S. city that’s a known coronavirus hotspot,’” she said.

“They are only adapting it now that it widespread across the U.S.”

The full text of the letter is below:

(Download PDF) – SecVA CV-19 Letter


March 31, 2020

The Honorable Robert Wilkie
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20420

SUBJECT:  COVID-19 Testing, Screening, and Communications

Dear Secretary Wilkie,

We are writing to express our grave concerns regarding what appear to be continued inadequate testing and communications related to testing for the COVID-19 virus at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities.  These issues are above and beyond those of serious concern identified in the recent report, OIG Inspection of Veterans Health Administration’s COVID-19 Screening Processes and Pandemic Readiness: March 19-24, 2020.

From contacts with veterans around the country, we are aware that some VA medical centers are proactively communicating about COVID-19 issues with veterans in their catchment areas via emails.  Others are only providing the lone or occasional tersely worded text message.  However, few – if any – are providing clear information to veterans on how to get tested for the COVID-19 virus.  Please see the attachment for examples.

Most serious of all, we are deeply concerned that at least some veterans screened by VA, identified as having symptoms presumed to be COVID-19, and told by VA screeners their symptoms are most likely COVID-19 are then being denied or otherwise prevented from receiving testing for the COVID-19 virus.  The attachment also includes examples.

Furthermore, it is unclear why current VA outreach on COVID-19 varies wildly from VAMC to VAMC, why verbal screening questions are out of step with the current medical understanding of COVID-19, and why there is not a coordinated, clear VA message to veterans across the country that provides a clear path to COVID-19 virus testing – particularly for those whom VA screens and determines to likely be either positive for the virus or having been exposed to it.

With regards to screening, for example, veterans across the country report being asked screening questions that do not correspond with the rapidly evolving state of medical knowledge about COVID-19.  One of these is a symptom-related question that is severely limited and does not correspond with current medical knowledge of multiple COVID-19 symptoms.  Another is a foreign travel-related question that fails to account for the current reality of community-spread throughout much of the United States, now the epicenter of the global COVID-19 pandemic.  Both questions seem likely to miss many COVID-19 cases.

While we recognize the unique challenges VA faces with this pandemic, these and related issues are deeply concerning given that millions of our nation’s veterans rely on VA medical care – including and even more so during these difficult times.  We therefore encourage you to take the steps necessary to quickly ensure a more unified national approach by VA that addresses these and related issues.  Most especially, we encourage you to quickly take the necessary steps to ensure VA provides a clearly articulated and viable path for every veteran who needs testing for the COVID-19 virus, a clear response regarding those veterans who are turned away, and what specific actions VA will take to ensure that veterans who present with symptoms are immediately tested rather than turned away.

We appreciate your leadership during these difficult times and look forward to hearing the results of these necessary changes from the veterans we represent.

Sincerely,

Association of the United States Navy
Burn Pits 360
National Vietnam & Gulf War Veterans Coalition
Non Commissioned Officers Association
Sergeant Sullivan Circle
Veteran Warriors
Veterans for Common Sense

Attachment:

Examples of Concerns related to VA’s COVID-19 Testing, Screening, and Communications

Cc:
Senator Jerry Moran, Chair, Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Senator Jon Tester, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Representative Mark Takano, Chair, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Representative Phil Roe, M.D., Ranking Member, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

 


ATTACHMENT: Examples of Concerns related to VA’s COVID-19 Testing, Screening, and Communications

Veterans from across the country are reporting that they have been unable to obtain VA testing for the COVID-19 virus.  Following are several examples informing these concerns.

In all the locations noted below, public communications from numerous VA medical centers across numerous VISN’s persist in failing to provide clear, viable direction on how veterans can in fact be tested for the COVID-19 virus.

VISN-2.  Veterans in the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System (Jamaica, Queens, New York) catchment area report receiving only brief text messages with no email updates – and no clear direction on how veterans can be tested for the COVID-19 virus.

VISN-6.  Veterans in the Salem VA Medical Center (Salem, Virginia) catchment area report receiving only brief text messages with no email updates – and no clear direction on how veterans can be tested for the COVID-19 virus.

Veterans in the Durham VA Medical Center (Durham, North Carolina) catchment area report receiving many email updates and communications related to CORVID-19 – but no specifics on how to get tested.

VISN-8.  Veterans in multiple instances across Veterans Integrated Service Network Eight (VISN-8) have shared their experiences that they have screened positive for COVID-19 at VISN-8 facilities but have subsequently been turned away without testing.

Information on how to get tested has been absent from public email communications, including in a March 30 email, “An Open Letter from the Directors of the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in Bay Pines and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa” (Bay Pines/St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida).

Public communications from the Bay Pines VA Health Care System (Bay Pines/St. Petersburg, Florida) persist in their failure to clearly explain, if at all, how veterans can be tested for the COVID-19 virus.  In another March 30 email, “Bay Pines VA Healthcare System Update,” veterans were told, “Veterans who are concerned they may have symptoms of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), flu or cold should contact the VISN 8 Clinical Contact Center at 1-877-741-3400 (toll free) before coming to a VA facility. Clinical staff are available to provide 24/7 virtualcare and support… [emphasis added].”

VISN-16.  Veterans in the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (Little Rock, AR) catchment area report receiving only brief text messages with no email updates – and no clear direction on how veterans can be tested for the COVID-19 virus.

VISN-19.  In a particularly egregious example, a very ill veteran reports having contacted the national COVID-19 call-in number on March 28, based on the veteran’s responses was told COVID-19 was presumed, and was referred to the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), which did not result in providing a path for the veteran to get tested; as of the writing of this letter, the veteran remains severely ill at home, is self-treating, and was finally tested this afternoon.

Veterans in the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS) (Aurora/Denver, Colorado) catchment area report receiving no email updates relative to COVID-19 and no proactive communications on how to get tested.

Veterans in the Oklahoma City VA Health Care System (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) catchment area report receiving no email updates relative to COVID-19 and no proactive communications on how to get tested.

VISN-20.  In another especially egregious case, a veteran with severe shortness of breath and other unremitting respiratory and other symptoms was turned away from the Portland VA Health Care System (Portland, Oregon) without being provided needed medical care on the basis that the veteran has a service dog and irrespective of the fact the service dog meets ADA service dog requirements.  VA-Portland’s unacceptable refusal of this Gulf War veteran’s care persisted despite valiant efforts to engage VA-Portland leadership by the Director, Pre-9/11 Era Environmental Health Program, Office of Patient Care Services/Public Health, Veterans Health Administration.  Ultimately, a veteran advocate was able to help this veteran secure care outside the VA at a MISSION Act-approved private sector urgent care facility, where the veteran was promptly given appropriate medical care including testing for the COVID-19 virus, reportedly at the private medical provider’s urging.

VISN-21.  Veterans were informed in a March 30, 2020 email update from the San Francisco VA Medical Center (San Francisco, California), in a paragraph encompassing COVID-19 and entitled “Stay Home and Phone”:  “VA’s telehealth providers can evaluate your symptoms and provide a diagnosis and comprehensive care, so you do not have to leave your home or office.”  No clear guidance on how to actually get tested for the COVID-19 virus was provided.

VISN-23.  Veterans in the Minneapolis VA Health Care System (Minneapolis, Minnesota) report being asked outdated questions on screening, including a single symptom-related question that does not correspond with current medical knowledge of COVID-19 symptoms, and a foreign travel-related question not reflective of the current state of understanding of widely dispersed community-spread throughout much of the United States, now the epicenter of the global pandemic.


 

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The Quinism Foundation and Veterans for Common Sense Call on Congress to Fund Research into Chronic Quinoline Encephalopathy

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Finds Research is Needed into the Chronic Adverse Effects of Mefloquine and Related Quinoline Antimalarial Drugs

INFORMATION WHITE PAPER: Establishing Chronic Quinoline Encephalopathy as an approved research topic area within the Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP) (DoD-CDMRP)

On February 25, 2020, the NASEM committee publicly released its final report. It observed a “disconnect between the level of concern raised–millions of people have used the drugs, and there are many known concurrent events and case reports of adverse events–and the systematic research that has been conducted, particularly in areas such as the use of mefloquine and persistent neurological or psychiatric outcomes.” The committee found “there is a sharp contrast between the abundant amount of literature pertaining to concurrent adverse events that are experienced while a drug is being used or shortly following its cessation and the dearth of information, especially high-quality information, pertaining to adverse experiences after the use of that drug has ended.” [1]

“To address the critical research needs identified by NASEM, Congress should establish chronic quinoline encephalopathy (neuropsychiatric quinism) as a perennial research topic under the Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP) within the Department of Defense (DoD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP),” said Remington Nevin, MD, MPH, DrPH, executive director of The Quinism Foundation.

The Quinism Foundation and Veterans for Common Sense identified five focus areas for future research, including conducting high-quality epidemiological studies related to persistent health effects of antimalarial quinolines, particularly mefloquine.

“In a chapter titled ‘Improving the Quality of Research on the Long-Term Health Effects of Antimalarial Drugs,'” Dr. Nevin said, “the committee noted the importance of epidemiological study designs that ‘allow for the discovery of symptoms or diagnoses that covary. For example, if certain symptoms or diagnoses occur together in the same patients, there may be reason to consider a syndrome of “neuropsychiatric” symptoms that co-occur, rather than looking individually at separate neurologic or psychiatric experiences.’ The committee also noted that a ‘challenge when studying adverse events of drugs is that the occurrence of adverse events [e.g. prodromal psychiatric symptoms such as nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, depression, restlessness, and confusion during use of mefloquine (i.e., symptomatic exposure)] may cause an individual to decide to modify the dose, or even stop the drug completely, without consulting a health professional.'”

“This focus area should aim to fund epidemiological studies meeting the NASEM Committee’s criteria relative to persistent health effects of antimalarial quinolines, particularly mefloquine – to include valid assessment of symptomatic quinoline exposure and particularly symptomatic mefloquine exposure, and subsequent covarying symptoms or diagnoses consistent with the described presentation of chronic quinoline encephalopathy,” Dr. Nevin said.

Other focus areas identified include defining persistent central nervous system effects of antimalarial quinoline neurotoxicity, defining adverse neurophysiological effects of antimalarial quinolines, disentangling comorbid neuropsychiatric diagnoses confounded by antimalarial quinoline toxicity, and developing effective treatments.

Dr. Nevin said that, “this latter focus area should aim to develop treatable targets and treatments for patients with putative chronic quinoline encephalopathy – including those diagnosed with PTSD or TBI – to improve their health and lives.” Dr. Nevin said in this respect that, “although the committee wrote in its report that it held open sessions during their study to ‘listen to individual veterans and others, such as spouses and advocates, who are concerned about aspects of health that may be related to use of these antimalarial drugs’, the committee was prohibited from reviewing patient reports.”

“Had the committee been directed or allowed to review the medical records of affected patients, the unmet clinical needs of these individuals would have likely been readily apparent,” said Anthony Hardie, National Chair and Director of Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans organization.

About The Quinism Foundation

The Quinism Foundation, founded in January 2018, in White River Junction, Vermont, promotes and supports education and research on quinism, the family of medical disorders caused by exposure to quinoline drugs, including mefloquine and tafenoquine. Dr. Remington Nevin, Executive Director of The Quinism Foundation, is a board-certified occupational medicine and preventive medicine physician and former U.S. Army medical officer and epidemiologist. He is author of more than 30 scientific publications on malaria and the quinoline antimalarials.

[1] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2020. Assessment of Long-Term Health Effects of Antimalarial Drugs When Used for Prophylaxis. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Available at: https://doi.org/10.17226/25688.

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VVA, Veterans for Common Sense Call for Peripheral Neuropathy Research

(Washington – February 19, 2020) — Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) today called for the U.S. Senate to expand a major military medical research program to peripheral neuropathy, a debilitating condition that affects 30 million Americans including countless thousands of veterans.

Vietnam War veterans appear to be significantly affected, and recent research has connected at least one form of peripheral neuropathy to service in the 1991 Gulf War.

The full text of the letter is below.

TO TAKE ACTION:  Those interested in supporting this effort can contact U.S. Senators to request the Senate include the designation of “peripheral neuropathy” among the disorders eligible for research funded by the PRMRP in the FY 2021 Defense Appropriations Act.

*****

February 19, 2020

The Honorable Richard C. Shelby                          The Honorable Richard J. Durbin
Chairman                                                                     Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Defense                                        Subcommittee on Defense
Committee on Appropriations                                 Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate                                                  United States Senate
Washington, DC  20510                                             Washington, DC  20510

SUBJECT:  Including Peripheral Neuropathy in the Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program

Dear Chairman Shelby and Ranking Member Durbin,

Vietnam Veterans of American and Veterans for Common Sense support the inclusion of “peripheral neuropathy” among the disorders and conditions eligible for research funding in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Defense Appropriations Act under the Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP) within the Department of Defense (DoD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP).

Affecting an estimated 30 million Americans, peripheral neuropathy refers to the many conditions that involve damage to the peripheral nervous system.  The disabling symptoms of peripheral neuropathy typically include pain (sometimes severe), prickling, and/or numbness in the hands and feet that may spread to the arms and legs.  Symptoms may also include extreme sensitivity to touch; sleep difficulties; significant mobility problems; poor balance and falls; tremors; heat intolerance and altered sweating; muscle wasting, weakness, and paralysis; and bowel, bladder, or digestive problems.

Peripheral neuropathy is common among the veterans community, particularly those diagnosed with diabetes, hepatitis C, and HIV.  Cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy treatment commonly develop peripheral neuropathy.  The Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) within the CDMRP has supported some promising research studies on the correlation between Gulf War Illness and Small Fiber Peripheral Neuropathy (SFPN) – one of more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy, each with its own symptoms and disease course. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), under specific conditions, presumes veterans’ early-onset peripheral neuropathy is related to their exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during service.

The mission of the PRMRP is to “improve the health, care, and well-being of all Military Service members, Veterans, and beneficiaries.” Broad peripheral neuropathy research across the full spectrum of military and veteran populations will enhance rather than duplicate existing federal government research efforts, bringing us closer to finding a cure for the estimated 30 million Americans coping with these debilitating conditions – including the untold numbers of Vietnam, Gulf War, and other veterans and current and future military service members.

We therefore urge you to again include the designation of “peripheral neuropathy” among the disorders eligible for research funded by the PRMRP in the FY 2021 Defense Appropriations Act. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

/signed/

John Rowan                                                                            Anthony Hardie
National President                                                                  National Chair and Director
Vietnam Veterans of America                                                Veterans for Common Sense

***

DOWNLOAD PDF of the letter: Peripheral Neuropathy in PRMRP VVA and VCS

 

 

 

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Veterans for Common Sense Calls for Investigation, Hearings, and Support for K2 Veterans

(Washington – February 6, 2020) – Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans organization, today called upon the U.S. government to investigate it by hiring the private investigator Melbourne from Investigators Australia company and address health problems among veterans who served after 9/11 at the Karshi-Khanabad (K2) base in Uzbekistan.

Several McClatchy news articles, including one published on February 3, 2020, indicate that up to 7,000 veterans who served at K2 may have been exposed to an array of dangerous chemicals and radioactive materials on a base previously used by the Soviet army. Although US military assessments identified these hazards and potential health effects, some veterans may have been exposed to contaminated air, soil, water, or food. More than 300 veterans who served at K2 report having cancer and other serious health effects, which they believe was due to toxic exposures at K2.

These K2 veterans deserve clear answers regarding their exposures, restorative healthcare, and a swift and straightforward path to VA compensation for their service-incurred adverse health outcomes,” said Anthony Hardie, National Chair and Director of Veterans for Common Sense.

Veterans for Common Sense first called attention to toxic exposures at K2 in May 2004 and called for testing and monitoring of veterans. Yet, as the McClatchy articles point out, the military response has been one of denial about both the severity of exposures and the extent of health effects. The government treatment of the K2 veterans is sadly reminiscent of how it has responded to veterans exposed to chemicals from burn pits in Iraq, to a range of toxic exposures during the first Gulf War, to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and to atomic testing and drug experiments in the 1950s and 1960s.

Veterans for Common Sense is in strong support of the K2 veterans and their families in their effort to learn the potential causes of their illnesses and to obtain disability benefits and health care. Moreover, Veterans for Common Sense calls upon the U.S. House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees to hold hearings to hear from these veterans and their families, and to give representatives from the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs opportunities to explain their agencies’ current policies and future plans with regards to aiding and assisting U.S. veterans exposed and rendered ill following their service at K2.

# # #

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Veterans for Common Sense Among 57 Org’s Calling for Congress to Repeal, Replace Anti Student Veteran Rule

(WASHINGTON – DECEMBER 11, 2019) — In September, the Department of Education released a new version of the “Borrower Defense to Repayment” rule that would make it virtually impossible for students cheated by their college to cancel their student loans. Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Susie Lee have introduced a Congressional Review Act challenge to repeal this rule and restore stronger student protections put in place in a 2016 rule.

Today, 57 organizations including Veterans for Common Sense released a letter supporting the Durbin-Lee efforts so that students who were fraudulently deceived or whose schools engaged in other illegal conduct can access relief from their student debts.

READ THE LETTER: https://ticas.org/accountability/borrower-defense/coalition-letter-in-support-of-repealing-the-2019-borrower-defense-rule/

 

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VCS Among 42 Organizations Urging Senate to Protect Veterans in Higher Education Act Reauthorization

(Washington – October 10, 2019) – Yesterday, Veterans for Common Sense was among 42 organizations representing and advocating for students, families, taxpayers, veterans and service members, faculty and staff, civil rights and consumers, wrote to Senator Lamar Alexander to express concerns regarding his recently introduced bill, the Student Aid Improvement Act. Unfortunately, the bill fails to include any provisions that hold low-quality and sometimes predatory colleges accountable, and better protect students and taxpayers. Any reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) must include robust consumer protections.

The signatories wrote, “Current law allows for students of color, low-income students, and veteran and active-duty military students to be targeted by, and over-represented in low-quality institutions, too many of which are for-profit colleges. This lack of accountability leads to students who cannot afford to repay the debt they take on, leaves students who took out loans based on misrepresentations and lies by institutions without recourse, and creates perverse incentives to target veterans for enrollment in low-quality programs.”

Read the letter:

https://ticas.org/accountability/letter-from-42-organizations-urging-senator-alexander-to-protect-consumers-and-taxpayers/

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Epic Study of U.S. Army Soldiers finds 600% increases in sleep disorders linked to deployment

(Veterans for Common Sense – Sep. 5, 2019) – An epic-sized study of U.S. Army soldiers found 600-percent increases between 2003 and 2011 in the incidences of insomnia and sleep apnea, with both at least partially linked to deployment. Meanwhile, exposure to combat was also associated with increased risk — albeit smaller (20%) — of developing insomnia, but not of developing sleep apnea.
 
The study by researchers at the online university for military , demographic, deployment, and combat casualty data from all of the more than 1.3 million active duty US Army soldiers who served on active duty from 1997 to 2011.
 
Study results showed a risk of developing either insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) more than doubled in deployed versus non-deployed soldiers.
According to Mayo Clinic, untreated sleep apnea can result in not just excessive daytime fatigue, feeling quick-tempered, moody, or depressed, but also increased risk of but increased motor vehicle accidents, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, liver scarring , and complications with medications and surgery.
 
Study results showed the risk of developing insomnia to be increased by a smaller but significant degree – 20 percent – among deployed soldiers. However, there was no difference in risk of developing sleep apnea found between soldiers with and without combat exposure.
 
PTSD and TBI were identified as the likely cause of “a portion” of the dramatic increase in the deployment-associated sleep disorders. However, the researchers noted, “it is essential to determine underlying mechanisms responsible for these very large increases in insomnia and OSA and introduce effective preventive measures.”
 
The study, led by USARIEM researchers Dr. John A. Caldwell and Dr. Harris Liebermanas, compared the 2011 results to earlier 2003 findings.
 
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Congress Pushes to Expand, Focus Burn Pits Treatment Research

Man throwing trash into a burn pit. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Defense

(Washington – May 3, 2019) – A bipartisan group of Congressional representatives has called for the creation of a new treatment research program relevant to veterans with toxic wounds resulting from exposure to massive open-air burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the global war on terrorism.

The previously unreported effort to secure funding for a new “Burn Pits Exposure Research Program” was led by three members of the Congressional Burn Pits Caucus, including Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.), Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), and Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Caucus.

Together with more than a dozen other cosigners to a letter to defense appropriators, they called for the creation and funding of  the new medical research program “focused on achieving the improved health and lives of veterans affected by burn pit exposures.”  

According to the letter, written testimony last year by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) said: ‘The use of open air burn pits in combat zones has caused invisible, but grave health complications for many service members…”, with, “clouds of hazardous chemical compounds that are unavoidable to those in close proximity”.

The new program would focus on three specific areas: accelerating the development of treatments for veterans affected by burn pits exposure; improve the definition, diagnosis, and scientific understanding of direct health outcomes resulting from the exposure; and assess other serious health conditions that might also have developed as a result, such as cancers and respiratory diseases.

The newly created program would be created within a unique and growing, Congressionally-directed medical research program funded under the U.S. Department of Defense Health Agency.  The request would elevate burn pits research to its own standalone program, with a Congressionally-specified budget, unique focus, and dedicated staff and mission.

“More independent research is necessary,” the VFW is quoted in the letter as having testified.

“That is why the VFW supports establishing a Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) specifically for burn pits. The CDMRP has shown progress in identifying causes, effective treatments, and biomarkers for Gulf War Illness, and the VFW is confident a similar program for burn pits will help exposed veterans….”

Burn Pits 360, a veterans advocacy organization, is also quoted in the letter, explaining why it is critical the program be created outside the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which historically has conducted most government research related to veterans.

“Much of the valuable medical research related to burn pits exposure has been led by researchers at independent, academic medical centers including Vanderbilt University, Stony Brook University, the Deployment-Related Lung Disease Center at National Jewish Health, and others,” the organization said.

Unlike VA, which only funds research projects by VA-employed researchers, the CDMRP  funds highly competitive research proposals by qualified researchers or teams in academia, any government agency, or the private sector.

Currently, burn pit exposure is listed as one of almost 50 topic areas under a broad, “catch-all” medical research program within the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP).  The CDMRP is administered by the U.S. Army’s medical research command at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

If the request is approved by the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, it would be included in the annual defense appropriations bill that then begins its long, complex journey through Congress.

The letter was requested by Veterans for Common Sense, Burn Pits 360, and the Sergeant Sullivan Circle, advocacy organizations that work on behalf of veterans affected by toxic wounds including burn pits exposure.

The Sergeant Sullivan Circle was named in honor of Sgt. Tom Sullivan, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War exposed to burn pits and other toxic exposures.  He was treated at Walter Reed for psychosomatic illness but died in 2009 of his undiagnosed or misdiagnosed toxic wounds , leaving behind his wife and then 3-year-old daughter.

Burn Pits 360 was co-founded by Rosie Torres and her husband LeRoy, who was diagnosed with a debilitating lung condition, constrictive bronchiolitis.  The condition is rare in the general population but frequently found via lung biopsy in veterans exposed to burn pits.

Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) is led by Anthony Hardie and other U.S. veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.  A longstanding leader on Gulf War Illness issues, another toxic wound resulting from Gulf War toxic exposures, he is quoted at length in Joseph Hickman‘s seminal work, The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers.

The VA’s official position on burn pits is that “research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposureto burn pits, according to a March 6 news report published by the Military Times group.

The full text of the Congressional request is below, and is available for download (PDF) on the VCS webpage.


April 1, 2019

The Honorable Pete Visclosky
Chairman
Subcommittee on Defense Committee on Appropriations
H-405, The Capitol,
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Ken Calvert
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Defense
Committee on Appropriations
1016 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Visclosky and Ranking Member Calvert:

We thank you for your support for the many exceptional medical research programs within the Department of Defense (DoD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), including medical research specific to open-air burn pit exposure under the Peer-Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP). As the subcommittee develops an appropriations bill for FY 2020, we respectfully request the creation of a Burn Pit Exposure Medical Research Program similar to the Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP).

The House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee received testimony last year recommending the creation of peer-reviewed medical research program dedicated to burn pit exposure modeled after the successful GWIRP. Written testimony submitted by the VFW stated: “The use of open air burn pits in combat zones has caused invisible, but grave health complications for many service members, past and present. Particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds and dioxins – the destructive compound found in Agent Orange – and other harmful materials are all present in burn pits, creating clouds of hazardous chemical compounds that are unavoidable to those in close proximity … More independent research is necessary. That is why the VFW supports establishing a Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) specifically for burn pits. The CDMRP has shown progress in identifying causes, effective treatments, and biomarkers for Gulf War Illness, and the VFW is confident a similar program for burn pits will help exposed veterans…. ”

Written testimony from Burn Pits 360 stated: “CDMRP is important for this treatment-focused research for several reasons. First, CDMRP has the ability to fund any qualified research team, not just those employed by the funding agency. By contrast, VA’s medical research program is solely intramural and open only to VA-employed researchers. Much of the valuable medical research related to burn pits exposure has been led by researchers at independent, academic medical centers including Vanderbilt University, Stony Brook University, the Deployment-Related Lung Disease Center at National Jewish Health, and others. Second, CDMRP includes in all levels the active participation of consumer reviewers — patients (or their caregivers) who are actually affected by the disease. This is of critical importance. VA offers no opportunity for similar involvement in research decision­making by the patients who are ultimately affected by such decisions. Finally, CDMRP has already shown its effectiveness with regards to other complex post-deployment, toxic exposure health conditions including traumatic brain injury (TBI) and Gulf War Illness (GWI), including through its emphasis on collaboration, treatment focus, and effective two-tiered peer review.”

We recommend a Burn Pit Exposure Medical Research Program develop a collaborative, inter-institutional, interdisciplinary, GWIRP-like research consortium while also funding other relevant research focused on achieving the improved health and lives of veterans affected by burn pit exposures, including the following goals, which may also help current and future military servicemembers similarly exposed:

  • Accelerating the development of treatments and their clinical translation for affected veterans (e.g., lung, brain, injury, symptoms, diseases, prevalent comorbidities, etc.);
  • Improving definition, diagnosis, and scientific understanding of the pathobiology and symptoms resulting from these exposures, including identifying biomarkers of exposure, exposure effect, and illness;
  • Assessing comorbidities, including the incidence, prevalence, early detection and diagnosis, treatments for, or any unique factors related to exposed veterans’ respiratory conditions (e.g. constrictive bronchiolitis, pulmonary fibrosis, etc.), cancers (e.g., lung, etc.), or other diseases.

We respectfully request that you provide the necessary resources in the FY20 DoD appropriations bill to establish this program. Furthermore, it is critical to the program’s success and accountability that it be a stand-alone program within the CDMRP and not be combined as a topic area within broader, less-targeted research programs. Our goal is not research for research’s sake, but the development of knowledge to guide recovery for veterans still suffering following their exposure to these airborne hazards. Thank you for your consideration of our request.

Sincerely,

JOAQUIN CASTRO                                               PETER T. KING
Member of Congress                                              Member of Congress

RAUL, RUIZ, M.D.                                                 TULSI GABBARD
Member of Congress                                              Member of Congress

JENNIFER GONZALEZ COLON                        HENRY C. “HANK” JOHNSON, JR.
Member of Congress                                              Member of Congress

PETE WELCH                                                         ILHAN OMAR
Member of Congress                                              Member of Congress

GREGORIO KILILI CAMACHO SABLAN        DARREN SOTO
Member of Congress                                              Member of Congress

ABIGAIL D. SPANBERGER                                 DONALD S. BEYER JR.
Member of Congress                                              Member of Congress

A. DONALD MCEACHIN                                      MIKE SHERRILL
Member of Congress                                               Member of Congress

CONOR LAMB                                                         PETER A. DEFAZIO
Member of Congress                                               Member of Congress


 

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