Members of a federal committee created by Congress say the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under President Barack Obama isn’t telling the truth about its treatment of America’s veterans, and the department’s latest public statements are more spin than substance.
The VA recently issued a lengthy press release touting its alleged accomplishments regarding Gulf War Illness. But several members of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans (RAC) — created by Congress in 1998 to advise the VA on Gulf War health issues — say the press release is filled with misleading and inaccurate statements.
Some members of RAC, which is comprised of physicians, scientists, and veterans, tell Newsmax they are outraged by the press release — and blame Obama for what they believe is his administration’s neglect of men and women who served in the 1990-1991 war against Iraq.
“President Obama has abandoned Gulf War veterans,” Anthony Hardie, a Gulf War Army Special Ops veteran and RAC member since 2005, tells Newsmax. “He’s done some good things for veterans, but he’s really let Gulf War veterans down these past six months. He’s let this happen under his watch."
Hardie says the VA "totally ignored" a RAC report released in late June that gave the department a unanimous vote of "no confidence" for its “failure to begin treatment for the estimated 250,000 veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.”
In a landmark 2010 report, Gulf War Illness was ruled a legitimate disease — not a psychological ailment— by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a nonprofit organization that provides nonpartisan advice to decision-makers and the public.
But the VA now seems determined to reverse that historic decision and downplay the problem, committee members say.
Marguerite Knox, a Gulf War veteran, former member of President Clinton's Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses, and member of RAC, was “disgusted” by the VA’s latest statements.
“Despite the expertise of the RAC and the scientific validation of the existence of Gulf War Illness, VA bureaucrats are once again working to sabotage the truth," she said.
Among VA claims disputed by RAC members is the assertion that its research initiatives include funding of an independent IOM review of medical research related to treatment of chronic multi-symptom illness among Gulf War Veterans that is expected to conclude in 2013.
But according to Hardie: “The IOM treatments panel has thus far focused on psychological and psychosomatic issues that have long since been debunked. The panel has failed to meet the terms of its statutory mandate requiring consultation with medical practitioners experienced in treating ill Gulf War veterans.”
VA also said that it is improving care and services for Gulf War veterans through initiatives outlined in its 2011 Gulf War Veterans Illness (GWVI) Task Force Report.
But Hardie said, “We can only guess at how this clinical care model might be going, because the task force operates in total secrecy.
“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,” he said. “This secrecy is a far cry from the openness and transparency promised by Obama and expected by affected veterans.”
The VA also said it has led efforts to better understand and characterize Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses and to improve treatment.
But according to Hardie: “VA still has no proven effective treatments for Gulf War Illness. But rather than address this — and all the other serious issues raised last month by the RAC’s expert panel — VA instead has put out a press release that spins unaddressed failures into major achievements.
“They don’t even mention that its Gulf War Veterans Illness research budget was actually slashed this year by two-thirds from $15 million to under $5 million,” Hardie said.
When asked to comment on the criticisms, VA spokesman Mark Ballesteros told Newsmax: "VA remains committed to the health and well-being of the veterans of the Gulf War. Actions that VA has taken, and will continue to take in the future, demonstrate that we have not forgotten their service and dedication.
“We will continue to provide healthcare and benefits and to invest in research to understand and treat Gulf War Veterans illnesses,” he said.
Retired Navy SEAL Commander Ryan Zinke, who heads the anti-Obama Special Operations for America Super PAC, says it’s all about politics.
“The Obama administration continues to play politics rather than providing leadership when it comes to challenges facing returning veterans with combat-related injuries,” said Zinke, who also is a Republican state senator from Montana.
“The fact is that those on military pensions are facing a five-fold increase in healthcare costs — and jobs for returning veterans just are not there.”
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