Thomas Paine Celebration in Southwest Florida Expected to be Largest in the Nation

Event commemorates 280th anniversary of the birth of the Revolutionary War patriot, whose writings remain central to democratic movements worldwide

(Sarasota, Fla. – January 23, 2017) – This year’s southwest Florida commemoration of the 280th anniversary of the birth of Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Paine is expected to easily surpass other similar events held around the country, making it the largest such celebration in the United States.

“With our nation more deeply divided than in recent memory, there’s a renewed interest in our Founders’ democratic principles,” says Gene Jones, a Vietnam era veteran, retired attorney, and president of the southwest Florida veterans group hosting the event.

The hosting group, Florida Veterans for Common Sense, is named for Paine’s most famous work, “Common Sense,” which provided the philosophy underpinning the founding of the United States.  “At the time, they were viewed as radicals and rabble-rousers,” explains Jones about Paine and the Founding Fathers, “but today Paine’s ideas are central to democracies and democracy-building worldwide.

Saturday’s commemorative event will feature a dinner surrounded by Revolutionary War and other historical flags and memorabilia, souvenir photos, music — and of course an “appearance” by Thomas Paine himself.

Paine will be played by amateur actor and Vietnam War veteran Kevin Connelly, experienced at playing Paine.  The costume play is a far reach from Connelly’s daily life, where he serves as the CEO of Apollo Sunguard Systems, a Sarasota business that manufactures outdoor sun shades.

“Paine’s most famous quote is perhaps, ‘These are the times that try men’s souls,’” says Connelly, who is expected to echo those words from the past during his Paine reenactment.

The event also features a note of seriousness – an annual award to exemplify Paine’s philosophy of common sense and “everything which is just, reasonable, and honorable; or the evils that will follow from an inattention to those principles.”  The 2016 Thomas Paine award will be made to national advocate Nancy Parrish for her leadership on military sexual trauma policy change, including through a group she founded, Protect Our Defenders.  The award will be presented by Anthony Hardie, national director of Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans’ advocacy organization that has frequently testified before Congress on veterans and military issues.  Parrish will provide comments with updates on her successful advocacy work.

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VCS weighs in on future of the VA in the new Administration, in two national news stories

(Washington – January 18, 2017) – Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) was quoted twice this week in the national press about prospects for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the new Administration.

A Healthline feature story published yesterday by award-winning journalist Jamie Reno, which highlighted what may lay ahead for VA in the new Administration, includes extensive VCS quotes. [SOURCE:  Healthline, “Will Healthcare for Veterans Improve Under President Trump? The president-elect’s selection of David Shulkin as Secretary of Veterans Affairs has drawn praise, but some advocates still worry about privatizing the agency.”, Jamie Reno, January 17, 2017.]

The Healthline article gives voice to several veteran leaders with concerns of possible privatization of VA healthcare, a major area of VCS concern.  Reno lays out the progress made by the current Administration, but also details the many serious challenges that continue to face VA, including unacceptably high veteran suicide rates, VA claims denials, VA healthcare wait times, staffing, and the challenges of meeting the needs of women veterans.  VCS has done extensive work since its founding in 2002 on nearly all of these key priorities.

Concerns about VA privatization may be less likely to be realized following the appointment of current VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin.

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) President John Rowan had praise for Shulkin’s work in fixing VA.  “Dr. Shulkin came out of the private sector less than two years ago,” Rowan explained in the Healthline article. “He has been relentless in his pursuit of improving medical care for veterans, working to increase timely access, all the while holding managers and other VA staff accountable.

The day of the announcement of Shulkin’s nomination, the L.A. Times quoted VCS’s press statement about the nomination:  “Another group, Veterans for Common Sense, said it was “relieved” by Trump’s pick of Shulkin,”  [SOURCE:  Los Angeles Times, “Trump picks Obama appointee to lead Veterans Affairs. Has he cooled on his plan to overhaul it?”, Evan Halper, January 11, 2017.]

The Healthline article also describes the plight of Gulf War veterans and other veterans with toxic wounds — areas of major VCS focus by Veterans for Common Sense:

Anthony Hardie, a Gulf war veteran, and longtime advocate for his fellow veterans, has spoken before Congress many times on the profound harms veterans have suffered through exposure to multiple toxins while on duty. He is cautiously optimistic about what Shulkin can accomplish if given the chance.

“There’s a lot of very old swamp the new president could help drain, forcing the VA to finally fulfill its long-untapped potential to really help countless toxic-wounded veterans,” said Hardie, the director of Veterans for Common Sense.

Hardie believes the VA is “uniquely situated” to learn from and treat veterans with toxic wounds.

“Veterans with Agent Orange exposure, for example, have had many disability ‘presumptives’ approved by VA, but far too many Vietnam veterans have died young, leaving it all to surviving spouses and children,” he told Healthline.

Hardie added that one-third of his fellow 1991 Gulf War veterans with Gulf War Illness remain chronically ill because of toxic exposures.

“Yet they suffer an 80 percent VA claims denial rate,” he explained. “And post-9/11 veterans exposed to burn pits or Iraqi chemical warfare agents are even worse situated, and it doesn’t stop there.”

Read the full Healthline story at:  http://www.healthline.com/health-news/will-healthcare-for-veterans-improve-under-trump#4

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Veterans for Common Sense Statement on Appointment of New VA Secretary  

(Washington – January 11, 2017)  – Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans organization, today released the following statement regarding the appointment of David Shulkin, M.D. as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA):

“After substantial public discussion regarding possible wholesale privatization of VA healthcare, we are relieved by today’s announcement. 

“We support the appointment as VA Secretary of Dr. David Shulkin, an accomplished medical doctor with significant VA and private sector experience running large and complex healthcare organizations.

“VA is of course much more than just a healthcare provider, and Dr. Shulkin’s current VA experience should lend itself well to this expanded role.  While VA has many enduring challenges, a common-sense approach to solving them can only succeed.

“Our veterans deserve the very best healthcare, medical research, benefits, programs, and services that we as a nation can provide.  That means fully funding the VA, fixing VA’s many challenges, and ensuring veterans receive the assistance they need at the time they need it.”

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Dr. David Shulkin currently serves as Undersecretary of Health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a position to which he was appointed in 2015 by President Obama and confirmed unanimously by the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

Shulkin’s public bio is available at:  https://www.va.gov/opa/bios/bio_shulkin.asp

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NSU Scientists Study Disease that Impacts Hundreds of Thousands of Gulf War Veterans

 

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 PTSD– $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.

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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.


DOWNLOADS:

VCS PowerPoint — New Congressional Gulf War guidance:  PPT – SAC Gulf War language

VCS PDF:   Baldwin Gulf War Provisos – S.Rpt. 114-237 Highlighted

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VA ends paper signature requirement for VA healthcare enrollment

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

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VCS Statement on Different Organization with Similar Sounding Name


(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.”

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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.

 

 

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VCS Praises Senate Leadership for Preserving Medical Research


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(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.Graphic_Groups_ResearchNotRedTape_2

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.

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VCS Provides Written Testimony for Congressional Hearing on Gulf War Veterans’ Claims Denials

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:

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