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Opening Statement of Honorable Mike Coffman, Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Good afternoon. I’d like to welcome everyone to today’s hearing titled “Gulf War: What Kind of Care are Veterans Receiving 20 Years Later?”  

Yes, it has been over 20 years since the Gulf War.  I remember it very well, having been there myself as a Marine.  Now, as Chairman of this subcommittee, I am asking the same questions many fellow Gulf War veterans have- namely, how is this unique set of veterans being treated by VA?

While it may be pretty easy to determine whether a veteran served in the Gulf War, it has been difficult for some time to accurately identify what constitutes “Gulf War Illness.”  However, a lot of people, both in the veteran community and the medical community, agree that it exists.  In fact, VA’s current Chief of Staff, John Gingrich, once made the following comment about Gulf War Illness:

“While commanding an artillery battalion during Gulf War I, one of my soldiers suddenly became quite ill. Despite the best efforts of our medical team, they could not diagnose what made him so sick. Out of 800 solider is [sic] under my command, no one else was that sick. Now here we are, almost 20 years later and this Veteran is still suffering– and has been since the war. I have watched him when he could barely stand up, couldn’t cross the room on his own, his legs were so weak. He has been in and out of hospitals many times, seen by some of the best doctors and yet there is still no explanation for his debilitating illness…and this Veteran is not alone.“

Chronic, multisymptom illness, or “CMI”, is by its own definition not just one item that a VA physician can look for.  However, there are certain things a VA physician can and should look for, and determining whether a veteran likely has CMI that can be attributed to service in the first Gulf War should be a straightforward process.  However, I’m concerned that is not what is happening in practice.

This hearing today is not about whether Gulf War Illness exists; this hearing is about how it is identified, diagnosed, and treated, and how the tools put in place to aid these efforts have been used.  For example, is the Gulf War Registry working as intended and being used properly?  If not, what is VA doing to fix the problem, and what can this Committee do to help VA in that effort?  

Are the findings of the Research Advisory Committee being put to use in identifying, diagnosing, and treating those veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness?  If not, where is the disconnect?  How can this Committee help VA better assist these veterans?

We have learned a lot in the last twenty years.  Science and research has identified unique medical issues for the veterans of the Gulf War, and established baselines from which we can gain a better understanding of those unique issues.  Gulf War Illness has significant physical effects on the lives and well-beings of those veterans, and we need to make sure that VA can and does make every effort to accurately identify, diagnose, and treat them in a timely fashion.  To be sure, it should not take another 20 years for us all to get this right.

I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses on what is working in treating Gulf War Illness, where problems remain, and how the entire process can be improved.  

With that, I yield to Ranking Member Kirkpatrick for a statement.