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- New analysis by Brown University: Iraq War cost $5.6 trillion
- 36 Veterans & military organizations advocate with U.S. Senate regarding Higher Education Act
- VA launches welcome kit to guide Veterans to the benefits and services they’ve earned
- An Increase in “Bad Paper” Discharges Since 9/11 Leaves Many War Veterans Without Help
- VCS Expresses Concern about End to VA Data Report
Nova Southeastern University Researchers Receive More Than $1.8 Million in Grants from U.S. Army to Examine Causes of Gulf War Illness
FORT LAUDERDALE-DAVIE, Fla. – As the nation honors our veterans on November 11, we must pause to remember the
long-lasting health effects soldiers experience not only from bullets or bombs, but from exposure to unexplained pesticides, radiation or other toxins during their time in the service.
At least a quarter of the 700,000 soldiers who fought in the 1991 Gulf War suffer from a debilitating disease called Gulf War illness (GWI).
GWI is a medical condition that affects both men and women and is associated with symptoms including fatigue, chronic headaches, memory problems, muscle and joint pain, gastrointestinal issues, neurological problems, respiratory symptoms, hormonal imbalance and immune dysfunction.
Researchers at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) are conducting multiple studies to learn more about and ultimately help veterans facing GWI. Two NSU research teams recently received grants from the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity totaling $1,830,389 to fund three studies.
- Improving Diagnostics and Treatments for GWI Females by Accounting for the Effects of PTSD1 – $655,822 (Travis Craddock, Ph.D., principal investigator)
- Disentangling the Effects of PTSD from GWI for Improved Diagnostics and Treatments2– $592,825 (Travis Craddock, Ph.D., principal investigator)
- Persistently Elevated Somatic Mutation as a Biomarker of Clinically Relevant Exposures in Gulf War Illness3 – $581,742 (Stephen Grant, Ph.D., principal investigator)
The first two, three-year studies1&2 are aimed at identifying subgroups of GWI based on the presence or absence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from time on the battlefield in both men and women. Dr. Craddock and his research team will perform a systems biology analysis to isolate biobehavioral profiles that identify the effects of PTSD in GWI to improve diagnostic criteria and to assess potential treatment avenues for GWI in the context of probable PTSD diagnosis.
GWI is at least in part caused by illness-specific inflammatory activity. The extent and nature of the resulting inflammation may be altered in people who also experience PTSD, leading to a shift in treatment targets/strategies for each subtype. Specifically, Dr. Craddock’s team aims to understand the role of systemic inflammatory mechanisms in GWI in the presence and absence of probable PTSD diagnosis as this is critical to define subtypes of GWI, and for the development of subtype-specific treatments.
VCS Presents on Gulf War Guidelines to Federal VA Advisory Committee, Provides New Public Education Documents
(Veterans for Common Sense – August 8, 2016) – Veterans for Common Sense Director Anthony Hardie today presented to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) federal advisory committee regarding the impetus behind a new federal relook of clinical guidelines for Gulf War veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.
The presentation, made by Dr. Stephen Hunt, VA’s Deployment Health Director, and Hardie, was to the Congressionally chartered VA Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC). Their presentation included a discussion of new Congressional guidance related to Gulf War veterans’ issues.
The clinical guidelines, developed jointly by VA and the Department of Defense (DoD), came under sharp criticism during a February 23, 2016 Congressional hearing on Gulf War veterans issues. One news headline read, “On Gulf War’s 25th Anniversary, Researchers & Veterans Say VA Failing to Treat Signature Injury: Congressional Hearing Marks Persian Gulf War’s 25th Anniversary with Sharp Criticism of VA Clinical Guideline and VA-Contracted Institute of Medicine Report.”
According to testimony by Dr. Roberta White, PhD, head of the Boston University School of Public Health Environmental Health Department and immediate past Scientific Director for the RAC, the “treatment guideline that suggests ineffective, unproven and purely palliative treatments for Gulf War illness that focus on psychiatric symptomatology.”
“Even worse, multiple psychiatric medications are suggested in the treatment document that have significant adverse side effects. Even more disturbing, none of these medications has been studied with regard to its effectiveness in the treatment of Gulf War illness,” White continued.
VCS also testified at that hearing and at a subsequent hearing on Gulf War veterans’ disability claims denials by VA.
Today’s presentation before the VA federal advisory committee also included a discussion of new Congressional direction related to the nomenclature for Gulf War Illness — calling it by that name rather than one of a myriad of previous names VA has used for the signature health condition of the 1991 Gulf War. Gulf War Illness has been shown in successive RAC and National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine scientific reports to affect between one-fourth and one-third of the veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.
The provisos are part of the annual appropriations bill for VA and were included by U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. According to an article in Healthline republished in the Huffington Post:
“Baldwin’s provisions … would ‘improve the approval rates of veterans’ disability claims; enhance ongoing studies and research into the causes of and treatments for Gulf War Illness; and strengthen the membership and work of the Research Advisory Committee, which oversees the government’s research agenda.'”
“The Baldwin provisos give explicit Congressional direction on Gulf War research, claims, and healthcare — the most significant legislative action in many years. Together, these measures represent an important step forward in holding VA accountable for its newly exposed 82 percent denial of Gulf War veterans’ claims and its rampant failures on Gulf War treatment and research,” said Anthony Hardie, Gulf War veteran and Director, Veterans for Common Sense in a statement.
“We are tremendously grateful for Senator Baldwin’s leadership within the Senate Appropriations Committee to continue Gulf War treatment research and to author and enact these critically important accountability measures, which are critical to the one-third of Gulf War veterans who are still suffering from Gulf War Illness 25 years after the war.”
The new Congressional guidance is already having an effect on VA. During today’s hearing, Dr. Stephen Hunt, Director of VA’s Deployment Health Clinic in Puget Sound, Washington, noted that new efforts include first revising the abbreviated pocket guide associated with the clinical guidelines. Hardie expressed Gulf War veterans’ strong hope that a revision of the full guide will follow, as Congress has “urged”.
VCS has prepared two documents for public education related to the new Congressional guidance on Gulf War veterans. The first is a PDF document that is an abridged version of the Senate Report, accompanying the appropriations bill, in which the guidance was included. The second is a VCS PowerPoint presentation that makes the new guidance clear in a simple to use, point-by-point presentation.
VCS PowerPoint — New Congressional Gulf War guidance: PPT – SAC Gulf War language
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today it has eliminated paper signature requirements for Veterans wishing to enroll in VA health care. Effective immediately, VA has amended its enrollment regulations to allow Veterans to complete enrollment applications for enrollment in VA health care by telephone without the need for a paper signature. This action also accelerates VA’s effort to enroll all Combat Veterans with pending enrollments as part of its ongoing Veterans Enrollment Rework Project (VERP).
By adding this telephone application option to VA’s regulations with this amendment, VA will now offer three ways to enroll under 38 CFR 17.36(d) (1). This option provides Veterans a convenient third enrollment option in addition to the paper VA Form 10-10 EZ and the online health care application.To apply, call 1-877-222-VETS (8387), Mon-Fri between 8 am and 8 pm, EST.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs email, Office of the Under Secretary for Health, July 5, 2016
(Washington – June 11, 2016) – Veterans for Common Sense today issued the following statement regarding a new initiative by another organization using a similar sounding name:
“To the best of our understanding, it appears that the leaders of a different organization, “Americans for Responsible Solutions” (www.americansforresponsiblesolutions.org), have recently announced a new initiative. It is unfortunate that they have apparently chosen to name their new initiative, “Veterans Coalition for Common Sense“, which is very similar to and potentially infringing upon the name of our longstanding national organization, Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) (www.veteransforcommonsense.org).
To clarify, the “Veterans Coalition for Common Sense” initiative is entirely unrelated to, separate, and distinct from our Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) organization, which was founded in 2002 by a group of war veterans, incorporated in Washington, DC in 2003, and has been operating continuously in support of our mission since that time. VCS has been active in supporting current and former military service members, educating the media and the public, testifying before Congress more than 30 times, and has been frequently quoted in the national press.
It is truly unfortunate that leaders of the other organization chose to use a name so similar to ours, which is already causing confusion. We have already received numerous communications intended for their organization.
In the best interest of both organizations, and to prevent future confusion by policymakers, the press, and the public, we hope that Americans for Responsible Solutions will modify the name of their new initiative to prevent further confusion.”
Veterans for Common Sense, Inc. (VCS) was incorporated in 2003 to collect, analyze and disseminate information relevant to U.S. foreign and military policy for the use of the public in better decision making. VCS works to highlight issues of public interest related to national defense, foreign policy, and current and former military service members. VCS is an all-volunteer organization led by U.S. war veterans.
(Washington – June 7, 2016) – Veterans for Common Sense praised Senate leaders for passing an amendment today to preserve federal medical research – including the federal, treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Research Program strongly supported by VCS and Gulf War veterans.
The bipartisan amendment, led by Senators Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) and Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi), garnered more than 30 cosponsors and passed narrowly by a 66-32 vote today on the floor of the U.S. Senate. (S.Amdt #4369)
“We are truly grateful for the leadership of Senators Durbin and Cochran and so many of their colleagues who recognize the critical importance of this medical research and the real hope it provides to those suffering from debilitating injuries and illnesses,” said Anthony Hardie, director of Veterans for Common Sense. “Today’s passage of this amendment means critically important medical research efforts can continue as they should,” said Hardie.
Other medical research programs preserved by the amendment include research related to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS), cancers, respiratory conditions, and an array of other health conditions afflicting countless current and former military service members, their families, and others. A burn pit exposure research program that was recently recommended for renewal by a Senate funding committee was among those protected by the amendment.
Many of the programs that were spared are administered by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) under Congressional direction as part of the Department of Defense health program.
The amendment removed provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017 (S. 2943) that would have curtailed current health research programs and hampered future research efforts.
A national advocacy effort in support of the amendment even garnered its own hashtags on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media: #ResearchNotRedTape .
Despite being a relatively new and very small program by federal research standards, the Gulf War Illness Research Program has already found evidence suggesting Coenzyme Q10, Carnosine, Acupuncture, and a xylitol-based nasal spray may help diminish some Gulf War Illness symptoms. The condition affects between one-fourth and one-third of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War has been linked to Gulf War toxic exposures.
In a Stars and Stripes article published today, “Senate wrangles over $1 billion in DOD medical research,” Disabled American Veterans Assistant National Legislative Director Adrian Atizado, himself a Gulf War veteran, is quoted in support of the programs spared by today’s amendment.
Disabled American Veterans opposed the McCain proposal, saying its members have benefited directly from the research program.
Adrian Atizado, DAV assistant national legislative director, said Gulf War Illness research initiated by Congress in 2006 could [also] help 600 veterans who were exposed to old chemical weapons during a disposal operation, and that wider research on multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease could also benefit the military because of the prevalence of the diseases among servicemembers and veterans.
“This research program is a peer-reviewed and competitive grant process led by scientists, clinicians and disease experts, and ensures that taxpayers’ dollars support only the most promising military-relevant research,” Atizado said.
Founded in 2003, Veterans for Common Sense is an all-volunteer, Washington, DC-based educational and advocacy organization that works to highlight issues of public interest related to national defense, foreign policy, and current and former military service members. VCS is a member of the Defense Health Research Consortium, which supports Defense health research programs.
Veterans for Common Sense provided the following invited written testimony for a March 15, 2016 Congressional hearing on Gulf War veterans’ benefits and disability claims denials.
SUBMISSION FOR THE RECORD OF ANTHONY HARDIE, GULF WAR VETERAN AND DIRECTOR, VETERANS FOR COMMON SENSE
BEFORE THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS, SUBCOMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATIONS AND SUBCOMMITTEE ON DISABILITY ASSISTANCE AND MEMORIAL AFFAIRS
FOR A JOINT MARCH 15, 2016 HEARING ENTITLED:
“TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER THE PERSIAN GULF WAR: AN ASSESSMENT OF VA’S DISABILITY CLAIMS PROCESS WITH RESPECT TO GULF WAR ILLNESS”
The full text of VCS’s testimony follows:
WASHINGTON — Today House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL-1) released the below statement following VA’s announcement that no employees will be seriously disciplined for the biggest construction failure in VA history as well as a separate $400,000 relocation scandal.
“Nearly every day we are reminded that accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs is almost non-existent. Today’s announcement from VA that no one will be seriously disciplined for wasting more than $1 billion on a failed construction project and that a few executives might receive a weak slap on the wrist or a temporary written warning for a relocation scandal that cost taxpayers more than $400,000 is more proof of this sad fact. One thing is clear: this dysfunctional status quo will never change until we eliminate arcane civil service rules that put the job security of VA bureaucrats ahead of the veterans they are charged with serving. The House acted to do just that last summer with passage of the VA Accountability Act, which would give the VA secretary the authority to swiftly fire or demote any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct while protecting whistleblowers and limiting the agency’s ability to place misbehaving employees on paid leave. If the Senate doesn’t follow suit with similar legislation to do the same thing, it is illogical to think VA’s many problems will ever be fixed.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
*SOURCE: Press Release, U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, March 23, 2016.
HVAC to Examine VA’S Gulf War Illness Disability Claims Process
SOURCE: House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Press Release, March 14, 2016
WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, at 10:30 a.m. in room 334 of the Cannon House Office Building, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittees on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and Oversight and Investigations will hold an oversight hearing examining VA’s disability claims process for veterans afflicted with Gulf War Illness (GWI).
VA’s own data reveals that at least 80% of Gulf War Illness claims are denied. The data is specific to undiagnosed illnesses and chronic multisymptom illnesses – both presumptive conditions under current regulation. This data reveals apparent problems in VA’s interpretation of the law with regard to claims processing.
The purpose of this hearing is to evaluate VA’s disability claims process with respect to veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.
The event is open to the press, with details as follows:
Murray, Warren, Blumenthal, Durbin Demand Help for Military Borrowers Who Were Overcharged on Student Loans
The senators’ letter follows an Inspector General report showing the Department of Education released statistically flawed information, papering over mistreatment of military borrowers
Years after errors surfaced, many servicemembers have not been refunded the money they were overcharged
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Richard Durbin (D-IL), sent a letter to the Department of Education’s Acting Secretary, Dr. John King, following a report showing the Department’s initial review and subsequent materials it released on student loan servicers’ compliance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) were statistically flawed, inaccurate, and invalid. In their letter, the senators called on the Department to rescind its methodologically flawed reviews, conduct a full review of student loan servicers to determine how many servicemembers were denied interest rate caps for which they were eligible, and issue all military borrowers who were overcharged a refund for their money.
“For almost two years we have repeatedly sought assurances that the Department would conduct thorough reviews of all federal loan servicers to identify both how many servicemembers requested and did not receive the SCRA benefit and how many borrowers were eligible for and did not receive the SCRA benefit,” the senators wrote in the letter. “Ultimately, the Inspector General concluded that the reviews provide no useful information about how many servicers were unlawfully overcharged interest while on active duty. …The Department has the ability to correct this injustice and ensure that each servicemember is refunded interest rate overcharges for federal student loans incurred while they were on active duty. …When men and women in uniform serve our country, they shouldn’t have to worry about our government holding up its end of the bargain.”
SCRA requires companies to cap interest rates on student loans at 6 percent while servicemembers are on active duty, in addition to other protections. In 2014, allegations surfaced that the student loan servicer Sallie Mae, now named Navient, had been overcharging servicemembers on the interest for their student loans. In August, the senators requested the Inspector General to conduct an audit of the Department’s review and released a Warren staff report to raise concerns with the Department of Education’s response in identifying servicemembers who had been overcharged.
The full text of the letter is as follows: