VA’s Medical Research Failures Continue to Grow | Veterans for Common Sense

A new example of VA’s failures on medical research — an often overlooked area where VA remains badly broken — has emerged near Fort Hood.

An Austin, Texas newspaper reports that a $3.8 million mobile MRI machine, widely touted by VA at the time of its 2008 inauguration, has been sitting empty and unused.  While VA announced in 2008 in detail the life changing brain research it was going to conduct using the equipment, VA never conducted that research and the equipment sits empty.   (“Lost Opportunity: With wars winding down, VA’s brain research failed to launch,” Austin Austin American Statesman-Staff, Sep. 7, 2014, Jeremy Schwartz reporting).

Among VA’s known, systemic medical research failures:

  • Cooking the books on medical research.  In March 2013, top VA epidemiologist-turned-whistleblower Dr. Stephen Coughlin testified to Congress about concerted efforts in the VA’s Office of Public Health to deliberately cover-up research findings that might show connections between military deployment and health risks.  Just like there were real consequences of VA’s cooking the books in the healthcare access scandal rippling outwards nationwide from the Phoenix VA medical center, veterans who were found by VA during some VA medical research to be suicidal were never aided and ultimately did commit suicide.  Coughlin’s array of assertions were found to be valid.
  • Denying scientific truth.  Over the past decade, the mainstream media has covered a myriad of stories on how VA research and benefits officials have downplayed, fought against, and outright denied the consensus findings by the penultimate National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine and the VA’s own Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses that Gulf War Illness is a real,  debilitating, and enduring medical condition, that it is not psychiatric or psychological in nature, that it was likely caused by environmental exposures, that it afflicts roughly one-third of the veterans of the 1991 Gulf War, and that treatments can likely be found.
  • No Confidence.  After more than two decades and hundreds of millions of dollars expended, the VA’s own Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses blasted VA research officials with a unanimous finding of “no confidence in the ability or demonstrated intention of VA staff to formulate and execute an effective VA Gulf War illness research program,” and a, “failure to acknowledge that the central health problem of this war even exists.”  
  • Retaliation.  True to form in retaliation against VA whistleblowers and those who speak up and out about problems in VA, VA’s leaders swiftly moved against the Gulf War Illness panel, gutting its leadership, membership, charter, and independence.
  • Making medical decisions for budgetary reasons.  In April 2014, widely reviled VA Undersecretary of Benefits Allison Hickey was revealed in a Military Times expose to have secretly weighed in with the Institute of Medicine in an effort to quash the IOM’s broad recommendation to the world’s medical community of calling “Gulf War Illness” by that name.  Her apparent goal was to prevent VA from being burdened with more disability claims from veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness, a covert roll-back of existing federal benefits law.
  • “Lost” database.  VA acknowledged that a critical research registry database containing medical data on hundreds of spouses and children of 1991 Gulf War veterans has been irretreivably “lost”.
  • Footdragging.  VA officials dragged their feet for years in implementing a registry of veterans with potential lung and other effects resulting from exposure to massive overseas burn pits.  There is no announced research related to veterans on the registry that might help provide a pathway to treatments and improving ill veterans’ health and lives.
  • Inability to Lead Research to Targeted Outcomes.  An array of important veteran-related medical research aimed at targeted outcomes has had to be directed by Congress to be conducted more effectively outside VA, from prosthetic limbs development by the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to research on traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in DoD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.

From foot-dragging to outright attempting to roll back the clock on Gulf War Illness research, VA’s systemic medical research issues remain largely on the back burner of Congressional, media, and public attention — if they are being addressed at all.

Read the full Austin article here:

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