Dec 2: VCS Asks Tough Questions for Defense Secretary Gates

December 2, 2008 -This week’s update focuses on Gulf War illnesses and the prospect of Robert Gates continuing as Defense Secretary under soon-to-be President Barack Obama. Veterans for Common Sense wants to know if there will be substantive changes in military policy and behavior starting January 20, 2009.

We remain highly disappointed at the military’s investigation into Gulf War illnesses under the incompetent leadership of Michael Kilpatrick. The Pentagon continues to erroneously claim that Gulf War veterans’ are experiencing “wear and tear” problems with their bodies rather than myriad symptoms of multiple toxic exposures from the battlefield is both misguided and insulting.

The facts are clear: in 1991, tens of thousands of young men and women – largely in their 20s and 30s and in prime health – deployed to Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, only to return home months later with very serious health problems including chronic fatigue, immune system problems, muscle and joint pain, and other diseases.

Years of research have shown veterans’ health problems are most likely due to a combination of exposures to experimental pills and vaccines, low-levels of chemical warfare agents, oil well fire smoke, depleted uranium, and other toxins. Nearly 18 years of scientific research has proven that veterans’ health problems are not only real and debilitating, but also the result of toxic exposures on the battlefield and experimental pills distributed by military officials during the war.

VCS denounces the military’s continuing efforts to undermine access to medical care and disability benefits for our Gulf War veterans. We are are not suffering from “wear and tear” problems, as Kilpatrick wrongly claims. Rather, we are still suffering from chronic and debilitating illnesses, and many of us have died prematurely. Some veterans developed cancers possibly related to their exposures, and Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) is twice as prevalent among Gulf War veterans than the general public.

What veterans need now is a clear research strategy from the VA and strong congressional oversight of the dysfunctional VA health care system, not more dismissive claims from Pentagon officials who continue to deny the validity and importance of Gulf War veterans’ illnesses. Please, give a gift to VCS today so we can continue raising the alarm on health issues facing our veterans.

We are about to inaugurate a new President, Barack Obama, who plans to retain Robert Gates as Defense Secretary. With that in mind, VCS poses these sharp questions for Gates about Gulf War illnesses and other critical issues.

First, when it comes to Gulf War illnesses, will the military expand research into causes of and treatments for the illnesses? Will the Pentagon change their policy and agree with the overwhelming scientific evidence that Gulf War illnesses are real and linked with deployment? Will Gates demand accountability for the small handful of DoD staff, such as Kilpatrick, who intentionally blocked research and lied to veterans, Congress, and the press?

Second, when it comes to implementing lessons learned, will the military begin an open and complete investigation into Iraq and Afghanistan war toxic exposures, including the continued use of the anthrax vaccine, the use of Lariam anti-malaria pills, and the burning of toxic waste in open burn pits in Iraq? Will the Department of Defense finally begin performing the Congressionally-mandated pre- and post-deployment exams, especially for mental health conditions and traumatic brain injury? Will Gates implement a plan to fight the stigma and discrimination against service members who seek mental healthcare? Will he hire more mental health professionals to treat PTSD and TBI? Will Gates repudiate and then fully restore the healthcare budget cuts made by Under Secretary of Defense David Chu?

Third, on other critical defense issues, will Secretary Gates call for an immediate end to the illegal and barbaric practice of torture and rendition ordered by President George W. Bush? Will Gates close the inhumane and unconstitutional torture camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? Will he properly label “enemy combatants” as prisoners of war and comply fully with spirit and intent of the Geneva Conventions?

Finally, when it comes to protecting religious freedom, will Gates stop the the illegal proselytizing our service members in uniform while on duty, and will he end the rogue evangelizing by some of our service members in Iraq and Afghanistan that recklessly inflames civilians?

Remember, VCS would not be able to raise these pointed questions and work for change without the help and support of members like you. Please, set up a monthly gift to VCS today. America’s veterans will thank you.

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