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Witness Testimony of Mr. Anthony Hardie, Gulf War Veteran

Thank you, Chairman Coffman, Ranking Member Kirkpatrick and Members of the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for today’s hearing.  

Special thanks also to full committee Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Michaud, and Dr. Roe, whose leadership is helping fund the Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program – the only federal program in the 22 years since the 1991 Gulf War effectively working to improve the health and lives of ill Gulf War veterans.

Thank you also to the Gulf War veterans who traveled to attend this hearing, and to all the affected veterans watching from home.  

BACKGROUND

As several Members already know, I’m a veteran of more than seven years active duty Army Special Operations service that included the 1991 Gulf War, Somalia, and four additional, non-combat overseas deployments.  As I’ve provided in previous testimony, I developed health issues that commenced in the Gulf and have plagued me ever since, including a chronic cough that has never subsided, and other chronic health issues including chronic sinusitis, fatigue, irritable bowel, widespread pain, neurological, and other health issues.  

As I have testified previously, many of us Gulf War veterans’ chronic health issues began while still in the Gulf, in the prime of our young adulthood and at the peak of our health and physical fitness.  Twenty-two years later, for many of us, our health issues have only worsened since first onset.  In 2009, my own health worsened to the point where I was no longer able to continue working.  

I wish that it was only me who was affected, but my experience is far from unique.  A 2010 Institute of Medicine report summarized a large body of existing research and showed that Gulf War chronic multi-symptom issues continue to afflict roughly one in three of us Gulf War veterans.  

Like nearly all other service-injured veterans I’ve encountered, the quest remains the same: effective treatments, and justice.  As such, I’m honored to serve on the Congressionally chartered Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC), and the integration panel of the treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) that sets the direction of the program and makes final recommendations on which research proposals to fund.  I’ve also been honored to serve on the VA’s Gulf War Research Steering Committee.

WHAT’S NOT WORKING

In 2009, I noted in testimony that Gulf War veterans looked to the new VA leadership, “with hopeful anticipation and continue to wish for their encouragement in achieving so many long-overdue and deeply needed goals on our behalf.”  Despite an initially strong restart, disappointingly, Gulf War veterans again seem to have been lost in the shuffle.  

In 2009, I also testified that VA’s own Gulf War research advisory “committees were not only not consulted; they still haven’t even been informed of … decisions made without their input on issues directly within their purview.”  These problems are now much worse.  VA staff routinely ignore Congress, the law, expert advisors, basic democratic principles, and common decency.  

The real proof for Gulf War veterans is one of outcomes: VA still has no proven effective treatments for Gulf War Illness patients at VA medical centers, where they are often still thought to be psychosomatic.  No VA newsletters to keep Gulf War veterans informed.  No implementation of expert advisors’ strategic plans and recommendations.  No consistent, reliable medical surveillance of Gulf War veterans, including data on the prevalence of MS, cancers, or other serious health outcomes among Gulf War veterans.  
VA's research focus over the last two decades has been largely related to stress, psychological issues, other diseases that affect veterans of all eras, and what has in the end amounted to trying to disprove there's anything wrong with the estimated one-third of Gulf War veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.   Instead of being aimed squarely at treatments and improving ill veterans' health and lives, many of these misguided efforts have continued through to the present.  In VA’s most recent annual national research review publication, VA’s Gulf War research focus is characterized as, “investigating whether service in the Gulf War is linked to illnesses Gulf War veterans have experienced”.  [emphasis added]
These failures are no accident.
IOM Treatments Committee.  A landmark 2010 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) confirmed successive research findings that the chronic multi-symptom illness we call Gulf War Illness is a unique diagnosis, that it is physical (not psychiatric) in nature, that it likely involves the interplay between environmental agents and individual genetics, that it affects more than 250,000 veterans of the 1991 Gulf War and other U.S. forces, and that treatments can likely be found.  This IOM report confirmed similar 2008 RAC findings.  IOM urged “a renewed research effort with substantial commitment to well-organized efforts,” to diagnose and treat GWI.  Congress quickly followed with additional mandates to launch research, followed by a new VA contract with IOM related to treatments.

At its first meeting, presenters before a new IOM "treatments" panel diverged radically from both the Congressional authorizing language and established science.  The panel was charged by VA to conduct a literature review rather than to consult with knowledgeable medical practitioners experienced in treating ill Gulf war veterans.  And nearly all of the first presenters focused on "stress-as-cause", psychological, and psychosomatic issues – all debunked years ago.  

For example, one of the stress-as-cause presenters to the IOM “treatments” committee said, “Stress has been indicated as a factor in Gulf War Illness,”  citing three studies as reference.  I immediately recognized one of cited studies, as its principal investigator had presented her findings to the RAC on which I serve, noting that what she found in ill Gulf War veterans was distinct from and not PTSD.  The researcher’s actual conclusions were: “Despite the overlap of chronic unexplained health symptoms and PTSD in GWV, these symptom constellations appear to be biologically distinct.”   This blatant mischaracterization of the research conclusions was not unique. And similar to other presenters that day, this presenter focused the second half of his talk on “stress management via relaxation-response (RR) therapies” – a mere band-aid for suffering veterans.  The ill Gulf War veterans who called in to listen to the panel's two public meetings were of course outraged.

Furthermore, the statutory mandate was for IOM to, “convene a group of medical professionals,” “experienced in treating,” 1990-91 Gulf War veterans.  Instead, VA created a charge to the committee that it was to conduct a highly restricted literature review of published studies – which missed the entire statutory intent of eliciting potentially effective treatment modalities from experienced practitioners already caring for ill Gulf War veterans.

Additionally, the panel was led to lump together all sorts of chronic multisymptom issues, (“pick any two of six”) including in the general population, defined so broadly as to include nearly any human health condition.

In July 2009, a former IOM Gulf War and Health committee chair testified as to the unbiased and independent nature of such IOM committees: “The reports are developed through an established study process designed to ensure committees and the reports they produce are free from actual or potential conflicts of interests, are balanced for any biases, and are independent of oversight from the sponsoring agency.”   However, in the case of this IOM treatments committee, the sponsoring agency – VA – not only issued the contract, but also presented its charge to the committee, shifted and limited the scope of what the committee could consider from the statutory authorizing language, and included multiple presenters to the committee – a far different reality from the unbiased 2009 expert witness testimony portrait.

A written request by three of us veterans to the IOM President for a copy of the VA-IOM contract and the presenter selection criteria was minimized and never fulfilled.  A request to the VA Secretary’s office for the contract and appendant documents was similarly never fulfilled; the same goes for a FOIA request to VA.  However, what is clear is the statutory language directing the formation of the committee, the VA’s charge to the committee that it of course followed, and the dramatic divergence between the two.

Thus, the process was fatally flawed through the actions of VA and likely other staff.  The result was the well-intentioned, veteran-focused panel members almost entirely failed to meet the committee’s statutory mandate requiring a focus on consultation with medical practitioners experienced in treating ill Gulf War veterans, which could have gleaned important, beneficial insights.  Furthermore, the final report included nearly 50 pages of recommended psychological treatment for a condition that is not psychiatric in nature.   Finally, the report missed the main point emphasized by the 2010 IOM panel:  effective treatments for GWI do not yet exist, but likely can be found, and a renewed national effort is recommended to develop treatments and preventions.  

Strategic Plan.  After being publicly criticized for not having a strategic plan to solve Gulf War Illness treatment, VA staff tasked its new, non-public Gulf War Steering Committee (on which I was appointed to serve as the sole Gulf War veteran representative) to begin work to create such a plan.  The Steering Committee, the RAC, and the VA’s National Research Advisory Council (NRAC), and a myriad of drafting subcommittees that included VA and non-VA researchers and Gulf War veterans spent a year and a half in a model process finally developing a strategic plan.

The plan was a comprehensive, outcome-oriented, consensus-based.  It was developed with the expertise of a substantial number of scientists and affected Gulf War veterans serving on a myriad of engaged, all-volunteer drafting subcommittees. It was aimed squarely at improving the health and lives of veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.  It met the approval of the Steering Committee, RAC, and NRAC.  

However, after the report had been completed, VA staff quietly and unilaterally gutted and whitewashed the plan.  Despite having been active participants in every step of the process, VA staff even went so far as to remove “Gulf War Illness” from the title.  The end result was that it was no longer a plan to execute the IOM’s call for a “renewed research effort . . . to better identify and treat multisymptom illness in Gulf War veterans.” Instead, it had become a renewed license for VA staff to do pursue whatever research whims might next tickle their fancy, which to date has largely included research irrelevant or even inimical to Gulf War veterans’ treatment needs – in other words, more of the same. One leading NRAC participant described feeling, “betrayed”, and having “wasted” a year-and-a-half – sentiments I echoed then and today.

When the RAC met to discuss the whitewashed report, the Gulf War veteran members of the RAC were so angry at the wasted efforts of more than a year, the other Gulf War veteran on the panel stormed out in protest, and I discussed resignation with the committee chair.  Our panel responded by a unanimous decision to reject and return the plan to VA as unacceptable, and to declare "No Confidence" in VA's handling of Gulf War Illness research.  
It continues to get worse.  VA staff have initiated sole-source contracting with IOM for a “literature review” to develop a new Gulf War Illness case definition.  In addition to this process being in complete contravention to the thorough, careful process to develop a new case definition laid out in the draft Strategic Plan, I’m also told that this process is unprecedented and likely to harm Gulf War veterans.  And, VA staff not only didn’t inform the RAC of this initiative (the legal announcement was discovered online by another Gulf War veteran) but have refused to provide any details to the RAC.  Why is VA allowed to continue unchecked?   
Multiple VA Failures.  The ensuing June 19, 2012 RAC report found that, “those responsible for VA [Gulf War] research fail to mount even a minimally effective program, while promoting the scientifically discredited view that 1991 Gulf War veterans have no special health problem as a result of their service.”  
The RAC report goes on to detail serious new grievances against VA, which in addition to gutting the proposed Gulf War Illness Research Strategic Plan, include secret cuts to the Gulf War Illness research budget, misrepresentation to VA leadership and Congress, blatant misdirection from statutory mandates, law violations, and citing as its research priority efforts to determine “whether” Gulf War veterans’ illnesses are in fact linked to their Gulf War service rather than treatments to improve their health and lives.  

No Meetings.  VA staff have for one reason or another not allowed the RAC to hold a public meeting since that June 19th meeting.  Public meetings scheduled for November/December and February in Washington, DC had to be cancelled.  

In more recent times, the VA Secretary’s office has remained largely and disappointingly silent and disengaged.   Unlike his predecessors, and despite the Congressional language charging the RAC to advise the Secretary, Secretary Shinseki has never once personally come to a RAC meeting.

OPH Survey.  Among the issues identified in the June 19th RAC report is regarding a follow-up survey by the VA’s Office of Public Health (OPH) of a national cohort of Gulf War and Gulf War Era Veterans (earlier studies were conducted in 1995 and 2005; the health surveys are done to understand possible health effects of service and guide health care delivery).  

This survey was heavily critiqued by the RAC on which I serve for failing to include expert recommendations related to Gulf War Illness, the overarching concern of the largest number of Gulf War veterans.  Not only did the responsible VA staff stonewall our panel during a public meeting, entrenched VA bureaucrats ultimately convinced VA leadership to ignore the RAC’s sound recommendations.  

MS Law.  Another of the issues identified in the RAC report is that VA continues to violate the law that requires VA to contract with IOM for a large-scale study to determine how prevalent Multiple Sclerosis is among veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War and the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.  

The 2008 law directs VA to contract with IOM to conduct the prevalence study with a specific deadline.  That deadline has long past, but VA continues to violate the law.   It is my understanding that VA-OPH is the entity responsible for VA contracts with IOM.  
 
It's more than a little ironic that while VA continues to ignore this law mandating MS prevalence research, an August 7, 2012 VA press release touted MS research as among VA accomplishments for Gulf War veterans.

GWVI Task Force.  VA’s Gulf War Task Force initially seemed to get off to a good start.  However, VA leadership chose to not follow recommendations to involve affected stakeholders on the Task Force.  As a closed group composed solely of internal VA staff, it has been prone to “groupthink”, to repeating the same old problems, and to being entirely closed to and seemingly unresponsive to the Gulf War veteran public it was intended to serve.  It operates in secret.  Its meetings are not open to veterans or the public, the minutes of its monthly meetings are not made public, it has no website, and it has publicized only two reports in its multi-year existence.  This secrecy is a far cry from the openness and transparency promised by our President and expected by affected veterans.  

To its credit, the Task Force has fostered substantial written input from Gulf War veterans on its draft reports.  However, most of that input has not appeared to impact the Task Force’s final reports.

The Task Force reports have also included a number of initiatives.  As one example, VA outlined a new clinical care initiative in its 2011 GWVI Task Force Report.  Since information about it is neither public nor has been shared with the federal panel charged by Congress with overseeing Gulf War health research, we can only guess at how the clinical care model project might be going.  In any case, it's hard to imagine how helpful a mere model of healthcare delivery will be to ill veterans when VA has not yet developed even a single proven effective GWI treatment.

Discontinuation of  “Gulf War Review”.  In my 2007 testimony, I noted that VA’s “Gulf War Review” newsletter – VA’s quarterly direct-mail publication to Gulf War veterans – had apparently been discontinued.  VA OPH staff testified at that hearing that a new issue would be forthcoming soon.  Instead, no issues were published that year at all.  

Now, the Gulf War and OIF/OEF newsletters have not been published since 2010.  Ironically, the last Gulf War issue included a feature article: “Secretary Shinseki Marks 20th Anniversary of Gulf War with Renewed Pledge to Improve Care and Services to Gulf War Veterans.”  Congress should pass legislation mandating the continuation in perpetuity of this and related quarterly veteran-oriented publications, which should include ongoing, clear, spin-free updates on every federally funded research study and benefits change relevant to the target population.  

Consequences of “Psychiatrization” of Physical Illness.  Many of us heard recently of an American Legion Iraq War veteran whose longstanding symptoms were found to be caused by Q-Fever.  After appropriate treatment, he was essentially cured.

It is unconscionable that DoD and VA do not perform comprehensive infectious disease and immunological testing in veterans returning from overseas areas where such diseases are endemic.  IOM’s 2012 “treatments” report noted that Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans are symptomatic of the committee’s loosely defined, “chronic multisymptom illness”.  

Congress should pass legislation requiring such testing identify, treat, or definitively rule out a clear list of at least nine debilitating, chronic infectious diseases endemic to southwest Asia deployments.  

Claims.  After a complete overhaul, VA has now apparently ceased publishing its data report on Gulf War veterans.  The report was formerly published quarterly; VA has failed to published any further reports since February 2011.   These reports are important for identifying approval rates of VA claims, among other issues.  

In 2010, VA issued a new FAST letter clarifying “medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness” claims.  However, any aggregate effect of this effort remains unclear due to VA’s discontinued publication of its quarterly Gulf War/Era/OIF/OEF data report. Congress should pass legislation to fix this problem.

I believe VA’s new efforts to create Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQ’s) are steps in the right direction.  However, the fact that there is not one for “medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness” claims diminishes the weight of the related 2010 FAST letter.  Nothing will help change the VA culture of deferring, delaying, and denying these claims than creating a clear DBQ in black and white and ensuring its full implementation in the claims approval process.  Congress should hold VA accountable until VA fixes this problem.  

VA has made no apparent effort to correct flaws in the rating schedule for Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), as I noted in my 2009 testimony, which continue to authorize 100 percent ratings for veterans with CFS alone but unjustly limit ratings to 40 percent for veterans with both CFS and fibromyalgia.  Congress should pass legislation to fix this longstanding problem that VA continues to ignore but which affects many Gulf War veterans.  

However, VA continues to publish an annual report on Gulf War research, in accordance with Section 707 of Public Law 102-585, as amended by section 104 of Public Law 105-368 and section 502 of Public Law 111-163, which require that an annual report be submitted to the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees on the results, status, and priorities of research activities related to the health consequences of military service in the Gulf War (GW) in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm; August 2, 1990 – July 31, 1991.

Congress should pass similar legislation requiring VA to submit to Congress quarterly reports regarding 1991 Gulf War, OIF, OEF, and Gulf War Era veterans, providing aggregate data of claims filed, pending, approved, and denied, health care enrollment, and other benefits usage, similar to the former Gulf War Veterans Information System (GWVIS) and Gulf War Era Veterans Reports.

VA Still Excludes Some Gulf War Veterans.  VA continues to unjustly exclude some Gulf War veterans from Gulf War-specific benefits, including those whose Gulf War service was in Turkey or Israel.  And, Gulf War chronic multisymptom illness presumptives extend to Iraq War, but not Afghanistan War (OEF) veterans.  Congress should pass legislation to fix these problems.

Cabal.  To date, VA has no proven effective treatments, not because such treatments are impossible to find, but because a small cabal of federal bureaucrats and contractors work at every step to delay, defer, and deny, and even so far as to obfuscate and refuse to implement laws, policies, and expert recommendations.

These issues are not just limited to affecting veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.  DoD’s “Force Health Protection” and VA’s Office of Public Health (OPH) continue to find “no evidence” of the very real health issues affecting countless thousands of additional veterans caused by their exposure to burn pits, chemical solvents in drinking water, contaminated and questionable anthrax and other vaccinations, inhaled or ingested Depleted Uranium (DU) particulates.  These misguided people also continue to minimize and spin the all to real health effects of blast waves, concussions and other brain injuries, combat psychological traumas, and more.  

These are not abstract forces or nameless, faceless bureaucrats.  They are people like Kelley Ann Brix from the Defense Department’s misleadingly named “Force Health Protection” office and psychiatrist Charles Engel, people who have seemed at every step of the way for most of the last two decades to have fought against the legitimate health interests of Gulf War veterans.

If these bureaucrats and contractors somehow believe they’re helping, one need only evaluate the outcomes.  Look only to what VA has to offer ill veterans coming to VA for help: band aids for symptoms and psychological counseling to at best help cope with enduring physical ailments.  

Much of the propaganda that has come out of “Force Health Protection” does not foster servicemembers’ health, it denies that health hazards are hazardous, that war has health consequences, that the health conditions afflicting troops are even real. They construct studies that look in the wrong direction, then finding nothing as would reasonably be expected they use these flawed findings to justify stopping looking.

It is possible this cabal, which for all intents and purposes appears to be working against veterans’ legitimate health interests, is taking its direction from the 1998 Presidential Review Directive 5, which was developed as a result of emerging Gulf War health issues and included extensive recommendations on “strategic health communications”.  Perhaps some have construed these extensive recommendations as a directive to coordinate national public relations efforts to minimize deployment health issues.  But “spin” is no substitute for epidemiology to identify deployment injury and illness with the end goals of treatment and prevention.  Congress should carefully review, repeal, and replace PRD-5 and regulations and programs subsequent to PRD-5.

For example, the RAND study on Gulf War vaccinations has been suppressed for more than a decade.  Taxpayers paid for that study, and Congress should order it released.

As Administrations come and go, these heretofore unaccountable staff and contractors must be held accountable.  When VA appointees are misled and misdirected and VA appointees fail to fix longstanding problems, then perhaps only Congress can create the statutory conditions to ensure desired outcomes.

Divergence from the letter and spirit of the law should be criminalized, with violators sentenced to prison.  

And until these changes can be made, these wayward entities, including FHP and VA-OPH should be substantially defunded, their employees permanently laid off, their contractors cut loose, and their funding redirected to entities like the CDMRP and DARPA that continue to prove they can achieve outcome-oriented results.

In short, despite all the best promises and intentions, actions speak louder than words: VA has again broken Gulf War veterans’ trust.  

WHAT IS WORKING

However, there are two bright spots for the treatment of ill Gulf War veterans.

The GWI CDMRP.  As an ill and affected Gulf War veteran, I am strongly supportive of the work being done by the Gulf War Illness Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP).  It is very much unlike other VA and DoD efforts, which have been consistently criticized over the last two decades.  
 
People suffering from the health condition under review, called “consumers,” are fully integrated into the entire CDMRP research proposal review process – a key feature of all of the CDMRP’s.  Consumer reviewers are placed on par with the scientist reviewers as equally respected, personally affected advisors, helping to enhance the program’s focus, ensure appropriate impact of funded proposals, and impart the sense of urgency felt by fellow afflicted patients.

Since the program began with Fiscal Year 2006 funding, I’ve had the honor of serving as a consumer reviewer for the Gulf War Illness CDMRP.  I’ve found the program efficient, agile, carefully focused by the Congressional authorizing language, and fully engaged in finding and successfully funding the best, most responsive research proposals aimed at improving the health and lives of veterans afflicted by Gulf War Illness.  And I’ve found the staff and contractors to be consistently capable and competent, responsive to the review panel, and integral to the success of the programs.

It is my understanding from other consumer reviewers that the same holds true for other CDMRP research programs.  

And, as a consumer reviewer since the program began, I’ve also had the privilege of reviewing virtually all of the hundreds of pre- and full proposals in the history of the program, which has imparted a unique perspective.  

As previously described, the collective efforts of this small cabal of DoD and VA (and perhaps also IOM) staff have produced a dearth of tangible results, no proven treatments, and have served only to disenfranchise, anger, and unite ill Gulf War veterans.  However, in stark contrast to the national disgrace of that failed cabal, there are literally hundreds of highly capable scientists and medical practitioners who are ready, willing, able, and actively working to help solve Gulf War Illness.  Many are at top research institutions.  They spend countless hours compiling detailed research proposals, often as long as a hundred or more pages, carefully articulating how and why they believe they can help ill Gulf War veterans.  For those who are ultimately funded, they appear to be truly making a difference.

One of the earliest successes of the GWI CDMRP is the discovery that a particular anti-oxidant can help reduce some Gulf War Illness symptoms. Another, studying the sarin nerve agent to which hundreds of thousands of Gulf War troops were exposed, may have important implications for future military or civilian populations in a homeland security situation since the research findings suggest low-dose, non-symptomatic exposure to sarin may result in long-lasting cardiac and neurological dysfunction.  Another is that chronic inflammation may underlie many Gulf War Illness symptoms, and if so, effective treatments may already exist.  Still another is taking an animal model of Gulf War Illness chemical exposures, which has effectively reproduced GWI symptoms, and testing an already available drug to treat pain and memory deficits common in GWI.   

It is also clear that many researchers are making great strides towards unraveling and treating Gulf War Illness without the need to know the specific substance(s) of causation.  Unraveling the specifics of what is happening now in the brains and bodies of ill Gulf War veterans appears to be at least as relevant to the identification and development of effective treatments.  

The 2010 IOM committee wrote that effective treatments for Gulf War Illness can likely be found and suggested a path forward, “to speed the development of effective treatments, cures, and, it is hoped, preventions.”  To date, only the Gulf War Illness CDMRP has been fully engaged in this effort, though still inadequately funded.  Most importantly, these CDMRP efforts are producing real results.  

Meanwhile, VA staff have wasted more precious years, squandered myriad experts’ time, energy, and hard work, and further alienated not just their most engaged advisors but also the very Gulf War veterans they are supposed to be helping.   And though VA research staff have told us they are now funding treatment studies, the RAC on which I serve has not been provided specific information on these new efforts.  

VA’s WRIISC’s.  In addition to the GWI CDMRP, I hear almost exclusively praise from ill Gulf War and other veterans who have participated in the VA’s three regional War Related Illness and Injury Study Centers (WRIISC’s).  The centers take veterans on referral from local VA healthcare providers and ensure a comprehensive workup to identify any diagnosable health conditions.  I also hear from some veterans that they’ve been able to use WRIISC evaluations to support their VA claims, an important piece of justice while proven effective treatments remain to be found.  And, WRIISC clinicians are thereby regularly exposed to a constant inflow of patients whose collective experiences could help solve Gulf War Illness, another potential benefit.

However, as word regarding these important clinical resources has spread among veterans, there are now apparently long waits to participate.  I’ve been told by some veterans the waiting list is now many months long, perhaps even as long as a year. Congress can help ailing veterans by allocating additional authorization and funding to these two areas that are indeed helping.

NEXT STEPS

We Gulf War veterans have been fighting the federal bureaucracy for much of the last 22 long years.  We’ve seen laws passed only to seem them circumvented or not implemented with impunity.  The independent expert panel created by Congress in 1998 was supposed to end gridlock at VA.  The release of the RAC’s 2008 report, and the IOM’s 2010 study showed not only that GWI is real -- what Gulf War veterans had been saying all along -- but that effective treatments could be found, bringing much hope to many distraught service-disabled veterans.  However, it is now clear that VA staff have continued are presumably will continue to betray Gulf War veterans for the reasons described above.

We have had countless Congressional hearings on Gulf War veterans’ health and benefits.  Time after time, researchers, advocates, veterans, and family members have told Congressional committees about the ongoing, serious problems they’re experiencing and recommendations to fix them.  Time after time, the Congressional committee members ask VA pointed questions about the VA’s many missteps, and VA staff make more on-the-spot promises, which almost always turn out to be empty.  Then a year or two later, and it’s yet another round of the same.

I hope today’s hearing will be different.  I hope that Committee members, and perhaps finally even VA’s present leadership, will see that that Gulf War veterans have been right all along – again:  that VA and DoD staff, including in VA’s Office of Public Health and DoD’s Force Health Protection and possibly with cooperation from one or more IOM staff, have been circumventing and flouting the law, Congress, and the needs of veterans; that on occasion after occasion they have been obfuscating, manipulating, and even lying.  The end result is that while we’re closer today to finding effective treatments for the one-third of Gulf War veterans who, like me, remain ill and disabled more than two decades later, any progress is in spite of and not because of this cabal’s efforts.  

Today’s hearing will not uncover every serious misdeed and transgression coming out of the longtime staff and contractors at VA or in DoD’s Force Health Protection. In the strongest possible terms, I encourage the Members of this body to take further steps necessary to right these ongoing wrongs, including reallocation of funding from these non-performing entities, legislation to provide criminal sanctions for such behavior, and comprehensive legislation to right these many wrongs.

And despite all the best promises and intentions, actions speak louder than words: VA continues unabated in its long tradition of violating Gulf War veterans’ trust.

RECOMMENDED LEGISLATION

VA staff must be forced by law to seek out, foster, and find the best Gulf War Illness treatment research aimed at improving the health and lives of those whose health has been impacted by their wartime exposures. To that and related ends, Congress should develop and pass legislation that includes:

1)    A provision making it a crime punishable by federal imprisonment for a government employee or contractor to attempt to manipulate an IOM report ordered by a government agency, or for an IOM employee or member to conspire with a government employee or contractor for the purpose of manipulating a report.

2)    A provision directing VA to immediately contract with the IOM for a study to determine the prevalence of multiple sclerosis in Gulf War and later veterans, as directed by P.L. 110-389, Section 804, and to provide criminal penalties for failure to comply.
3)    A provision directing VA to immediately terminate the IOM case definition contract and contract instead with the DoD Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) Gulf War Illness program to develop a case definition that is linked to Gulf War service and excludes mental conditions, and that follows customary case definition practices (including assembling a committee of experts in the illness, who can consult original data sources).

4)    Provisions to defund mis-performing VA-OPH and DOD FHP functions.

5)    A provision requiring VA to make the data obtained from its surveys available to qualified researchers subject to reasonable restrictions, similar to other agencies.

6)    A provision requiring an addendum to the national Follow-Up Survey of Gulf War and Gulf War Era Veterans be sent immediately to the full survey cohort that asks the RAC’s recommended symptom inventory.

7)    A provision requiring VA medical staff be trained in the new 2011 standards, which show Gulf War Illness is not psychiatric.

8)    A provision mandating future VA Gulf War research be focused on developing effective treatments to improve the health and lives of ill Gulf War veterans.

9)    A provision amending the statute requiring the reports (Section 707 of Public Law 102-585, as amended by section 104 of Public Law 105-368 and section 502 of Public Law 111-163), to provide that these annual VA research summary reports to Congress should include only those human studies in which 1990-1991 GW veterans represent at least a majority of the cases (vs. controls), and only those animal studies addressing exposures pertinent to the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

10)    A provision requiring VA to contract with the DoD CDMRP Gulf War Illness research program, to conduct the review of best treatments for chronic multisymptom illness in Persian Gulf War veterans specified in Sec. 805(a) of PL 111-275, which VA staff manipulated into an inconsequential literature review.  
11)     Provisions providing adequate funding for Gulf War Illness research to identify effective treatments, including:
a)     Provisions in the FY14 and subsequent DoD authorization and appropriations bills that allocate at least $25 million in annual DoD funding to the CDMRP Gulf War Illness research program;
b)    Provisions in the FY14 and subsequent VA authorization and appropriations bills, requiring that VA spend at least $25 million annually on GWI research AND directing VA to contract with DoD CDMRP to conduct at least $20 million of VA-funded research as part of the CDMRP Gulf War Illness research program, as the CDMRP determines in its sole discretion.  
c)    Adequately funding research to identify treatments for Gulf War Illness is imperative now to make up for the twenty-two years lost while the federal government has obstructed this research.
12)    Provisions in the FY14 and subsequent VA authorization and appropriations bills directing to expand the number, scope, reach, and funding for VA’s War Related Illness and Injury Study Centers (WRIISC’s).
13)    A provision directing VA to implement the February 1, 2012 published RAC recommendations for the New Gulf War-Era Data Report.
14)    A provision directing VA to implement the consensus Gulf War Illness Research Strategic Plan recommended by the RAC and NRAC, prior to unilateral VA staff revisions.
15)    A provision mandating the continuation in perpetuity of the “Gulf War Review” and related quarterly veteran-oriented publications for veterans of other eras, which should include ongoing, clear updates free of “strategic health risk communication” minimization, on each newly concluding federally funded research study, and each benefits change relevant to the target population.  
16)    Provisions to correct injustices in the ratings for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue.
17)    Provisions strengthening the authority of the present Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses.
18)    Provisions that repeal and replace portions of Presidential Review Directive-5/National Science and Technology Council (PRD-5/NSTC), and subsequent programs and governing regulations, including:
a)    Provisions related to the use of investigational drugs and products on military service members.
b)    Provisions related to health risk communication.
c)    Provisions related to interagency applied research program on health risk communication for military members, veterans, and their families.
d)    Provisions related to electronic communications with state and community public health departments to disseminate health risk information to veterans and their families through local public health infrastructure.
e)    Provisions related to training local public health officials on the use of essential information technologies to disseminate and receive health risk information from veterans and their families.
f)    Repeal and replace the Military and Veterans Health Coordinating Board (MVHCB).

19)    A provision requiring the consistent federal government use of a term for “Gulf War Illness”.

B.  Finally, as a group of 14 Gulf War veteran advocates has previously recommended, Congress should immediately develop and ensure the enactment of legislation to:
1)    Reauthorize the expired provisions of the Gulf War Acts of 1998 [Persian Gulf War Veterans Act of 1998 (Title XVI, PL 105-277); Title I of the Veterans Programs Enhancement Act of 1998 (PL 105-368)]
2)    Provisions that explicitly and directly grant exposure-based service-connection presumptions to known, suspected, or plausible Gulf War exposures including:
a.    Sarin (GB)
b.    Cyclosarin (GF)
c.    Sulfur Mustard (HD)
d.    Tabun (GA)
e.    Lewisite (L)
f.    Soman (GD)
g.    VX nerve agent
h.    Particulates (PM2.5: sub-2.5 micrometer in size, which are respirable and too small to be removed by the lungs’ natural exfoliating processes)
i.    Pyridostigmine Bromide (PB) nerve agent protective pills (NAPP)
j.    Anthrax vaccine
k.    Multiple vaccinations
l.    Depleted Uranium (DU)
m.    Chemical pesticides
3)    A provision that grants exposure-based service-connection presumptions for exposures in (2) above for all U.S. servicemembers who served anywhere in the Southwest Asia theater of operations (38 CFR 3.317) or were awarded the Southwest Asia Service Medal (32 CFR 578.27) for service between January 16, 1991 and the end of 1991. {Note: last oil well fire put out “by November” 1991}.
4)    Require VA to contract with the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences to identify a comprehensive listing of health conditions and symptoms, including chronic and delayed onset, which are associated in humans or animals with exposure to acute, subacute, and low levels for each of the named exposures in (2) above and explicitly and directly require VA to include each of these conditions as presumptives for Gulf War veterans as described in (3) above. The review should be explicitly required to include data from a comprehensive review of the medical literature, and to also include:
a.    1993 IOM report on WWII veteran Mustard/Lewisite experimentation survivors;
b.    Medical literature assessing long-term health effects of the cohort of Iranian mustard-exposed veterans of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War;
c.    Classified and unclassified published and unpublished research by the federal government, federal contractors, and federally funded entities into acute and long- term health effects of even low levels of the above named exposures;
d.    Animal studies.
5)    Ensure the perpetuity, without expiration, of adding new presumptive conditions as described in (4) above as they become identified by medical research.
6)    Expand the definition of the Southwest Asia theater of operations, for purposes of all VA benefits including healthcare, to include service qualifying for the award of the Southwest Asia Service Medal.
7)    Establish permanent eligibility by law for Priority Group 6 VA healthcare for veterans who have been awarded the Southwest Asia Service Medal.
8)    Require DOD to monitor, develop and retain accurate and detailed records regarding future troop hazardous exposures.