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Gulf War Illness Group Seeks Help from Vets

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By Mark Anderson

Vigilant veterans are concerned that federal officials are not doing nearly enough to get the word out about important upcoming meetings concerning research and treatment of sick veterans.

Former gulf war Air Force nurse Denise Nichols is strongly concerned that not enough veterans will show up for these meetings, including the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses meeting in Dallas, Texas Feb 23-24, 2009; and the imminent meeting of a newer committee in Decatur, Georgia.



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The first of the two committees, whose July 2007 and November 2008 meetings were covered by AFP, also meets June 29-30, 2009 in Boston, and Nov. 2-3, 2009 in Washington D.C. again. The D.C. meeting last November featured the long-awaited release of the committee’s special report that moved gulf war illness from the status of “it’s all in your head, soldier,” to an array of physical symptoms linked to certain causes in the gulf war theater of military operations in the early 1990s.

PB pills used against nerve agents and pesticides are seen in this 400-page report as the main Gulf War Illness causes, while Depleted Uranium, known to be a factor, was called a minor factor, though more DU research allegedly will be undertaken by the government on this radiological weapons component whose aerosols and fragments spreads toxins and enters the human system via air, food, water and broken skin. The military rarely applies the necessary handling and cleanup regulations for DU.

The second panel (www.va.gov/gulfwaradvisorycommittee), the Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans, will meet at the VA Medical Center Feb.18-19 in Decatur, Georgia; that panel will meet again March 18-19, 2009 in Waco, Texas; and April 7-9, 2009 in Washington, DC (last two venues TBD)

“In April 2008, the Secretary of U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs established the Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans,” notes an official VA statement on the newer committee. “The purpose of the Advisory Committee is to provide advice to the Secretary on the full spectrum of health care and benefits issues that confront veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the 1990-1991 period of the Gulf War. To carry out these duties, the Committee is expected to assess both the effectiveness of existing benefits and services and to determine the need for new initiatives and/or policies that relate exclusively to this population of veterans.”

Nichols added: “Committee meetings are open to the public and include time reserved for public comments. A sign-up sheet for five-minute comments will be available.... Members of the public who speak are invited to submit a 1-2 page summary of their comments at the time of the meeting for inclusion in the official meeting record. Individuals do not need to preregister to attend or speak.... However, when meetings are held at VA headquarters or facilities, all attendees will be required to check in and show valid ID at the security desk.”

“This is your chance, Gulf War veterans,” said Nichols. “We have had only, at most, half a dozen vets show up in D.C., Baltimore, Seattle [other recent meetings]. So if you have problems, now is the time to come forward. Have your input [ready]. Family members, too!”

Nichols continued that elected officials at the state and federal level should also send their staff to see how the process is going.

“This process needs to include U.S. senators, U.S. congressmen, state Reps., state Senators, State Departments of Veterans Affairs, veteran service organizations, commanders at the state level and their service officers so they can provide input and see for themselves the needs that exist. These individuals need to be notified by the VA but sadly the VA does not use their extensive public affairs to communicate with veterans or the elected or appointed leaders from the federal to the local levels,” Nichols said.

Nichols is insisting that the VA open its vast teleconferencing network at each VA hospital to facilitate a more rapid and open dialogue. In this manner, cash-strapped veterans, care providers, media, all officials, and veterans’ family members can minimize travel costs and get the facts from seeing video/audio broadcasts of committee meetings. Nichols states: “Veterans and their families have been disenfranchised over 18 years; the gulf war veterans tried repeatedly to access the VA system and were denied! Now they are expecting veterans like that to travel and spend money they don’t have to again try and get the system to respond! If they would open the door to each VA auditorium across the country and turn on the videoconferencing system we could accomplish this more quickly and hear the veterans.”

Nichols used her most recent communication from just one of thousands of gulf war veterans to highlight the problems:

“I am unable speak for other Gulf War vets, but I can tell you how I feel about the meetings and such. I am not able to attend the meetings because they are so far away, either lack of funds or my illness prevent me from attending. I know that we have waited a long time to be heard, but I know of some, like me, who have lost everything! If it was not for family I would be just another homeless veteran. My elderly parents have taken me in, and I still have my claim on appeal,” the correspondent told Nichols.

Nichols also is “astonished that the gulf war illness has been so neglected by the media, public officials, and the common citizen. It is an outright crime that VA/DOD and our government that has public media resources and assets fails so miserably in sharing communication of the utmost importance to these veterans and expects the ill and often dying veterans to do the public relations work and outreach that is so badly needed.”

She lamented that VA officials continue to be unwilling to use teleconferencing so thousands of veterans can watch committee meetings via personal computer and at local veterans’ posts, at libraries and other venues—in addition to VA auditoriums.

Nevertheless, all veterans and their local leaders, said Nichols, should place postings on grocery store bulletin boards, email networks, write letters to the editor to local papers, call radio shows, get public service announcements on the air, discuss the upcoming meetings at local veterans’ posts and do all they can to boost attendance and input for both committees.

“We need every gulf war veteran and their families notified of these meetings,” Nichols continued. “They need to write a summary including: name, former rank, unit, location in theater, when and what symptoms occurred, when and what happened when they went to VA for help, how/if was their VA claims were handled, where they turned next to get help, what status their health is in right now, and any problems that the spouse and family may have had—and suggestions for changes.”

For more specific information on places, times, schedules, etc. go to Veterans Affairs and proceed to “search,” and enter “advisory committees.” For the latest shocking casualty figures, see that same website and enter the letters GWVIS in the search box.

Suggestions and information from veterans, physicians, scientists, and members of the general public are welcome at these committee meetings. AFP expects to cover the Dallas research meeting.

Key VA contacts are: Laura O’Shea, designated federal officer, [email protected]va.gov; and Lelia Jackson, alternate designated federal officer, [email protected] va.gov.

 

MARK ANDERSON is the corresponding editor for American Free Press.

 
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