(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