Veterans of Modern Warfare Calls VA Report on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses “Bittersweet”

November 23, 2008, Washington, DC – On Monday, November 17, 2008, Veterans of Modern Warfare hosted a national press conference to discuss the finding of a report issued by the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses and provided to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake, M.D. in a public meeting in Washington, DC earlier today. The report called for, “a renewed federal research commitment…to identify effective treatments for Gulf War illness and to address other priority Gulf War health issues,” for the one-fourth to one-third of 1991 Gulf War veterans who remain ill following their Gulf War service with chronic multi-symptom illness.

The report strongly implicated pills taken by Gulf War troops to protect then believed to provide protection against nerve exposures, pesticide use during deployment.  Other Gulf War exposures could not be ruled out, including low-level exposure to chemical warfare agents, close proximity to oil well fires, receipt of multiple vaccines, and effects of combinations of Gulf War exposures.

The report noted the association of significant, diverse biological alterations that most prominently affect the brain and nervous system in Gulf War veterans ill with chronic multi-symptom illnesses, as well as significantly higher rates of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and brain cancer.  Most significantly, the report noted the lack of effective treatments for those ill with Gulf War illness.

Gulf War veterans reacted today to the report’s release in a press conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

 “This report clearly represents a scientific victory in definitively showing what caused Gulf War veterans’ illnesses, why so many tens of thousands remain chronically ill, and what can be done to help them, bringing to a close a dark chapter in the legacy of the 1991 Gulf War” said Anthony Hardie, VMW National Secretary and Legislative Chair.

“But today’s report is also a bittersweet victory because it simply highlights in greater detail what Gulf War veterans have known to be true all along – that their chronic illnesses are the direct result of unique toxic exposures during the 1991 Gulf War,” said Hardie, of Madison, Wisconsin, who is also a Gulf War veteran member of the VA’s Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses.

“There has been poor, if any, correlation between the federal government’s research efforts and the treatment provided to ill Gulf War veterans in our nation’s VA medical facilities,” Hardie said.

 “Our veterans deserve recognition, health care, and compensation for Gulf War Illness,” said Julie Mock, VMW President.  Mock, a Gulf War veteran from Seattle, Washington, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in 2007 about Gulf War Illness.  “Enough time has gone by, and this nation must not allow any further injustice with regards to our Gulf War veterans,” she said.

“We recognize that Congressional intent in the 1990s was to aid and compensate ill, disabled Gulf War veterans.  However, due to the failure of VA to implement these provisions, benefits delayed are benefits denied,” said Donald Overton, Jr., of Greenville, North Carolina, who was seriously wounded in the Gulf War and who now serves as VMW’s Executive Director.

Vietnam veterans were also present in support of the veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.

“Vietnam Veterans of America pledged that never again shall one generation of veterans abandon another,” said Rick Weidman, VVA Government Relations Director.  “While we have continued to strongly support our fellow generation of veterans, I’m deeply disappointed that the injustices in the health treatment of veterans of Vietnam War have continued to veterans of the 1991 Gulf War and beyond,” said Weidman, a decorated Vietnam War veteran.

Speaking at the Research Advisory Committee on behalf of the United Kingdom, The Right Honorable Lord Morris of Manchester and the United Kingdom’s first Minister for the Disabled, calling the report, “exhaustively researched,” said the research funding of the United States is key to assisting British Gulf War veterans who are also afflicted by Gulf War Illness and to ensuring the protection of future military service members and civilians.

“They are victims of the war, as much as one struck by a bullet or a shell, said Lord Craig of Radley, in a statement at a joint presentation in the United Kingdom made simultaneously with the RAC’s report release.

Earlier, during today’s report presentation to VA Secretary James Peake, M.D. by the Research Advisory Committee in a public meeting at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC, Sec. Peake said, “I neither deny nor trivialize these issues.”

“This is not an issue we can wish away,” said Secretary Peake after receiving the RAC’s report.  “We need to continue to have inquiries to ensure we have insight to learn the lessons we need to learn to help our veterans,” said Peake. 

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