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Hearings » Gulf War Illness: The Future for Dissatisfied Veterans

Statement of James A. Bunker

President
National Gulf War Resource Center

National Gulf War Resource Center
Topeka, KS
July 26, 2010 

Chairman Robert Filner
House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
335 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
(202) 225-9756  

Dear Chairman Filner and members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs,

The National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC) regrets that we will not be able to be at the hearings on July 27th due to other commitments. I would like this opportunity to submit a written statement for the record. The NGWRC is a non-profit organization based in Topeka, Kansas, focusing on issues related to Gulf War illnesses.  The NGWRC leads the battle in identifying problems facing veterans of Southwest Asia and their families, along with finding practical solutions. 

NGWRC requests that Congress enact legislation that would add to CFR Title 38 a standard for all raters to be trained and tested on undiagnosed illness, TBIs, and PTSD claims. The sending out of training letters is not working; most all of the raters have little to no time to read them due to their workload. The backlog of claim will only be reduced by having well trained raters. To take three to five days a month for classroom training and test will do more in six months then any training letter.

We have worked with veterans and their service officers all over the country whose claims were denied because the rater did not know or would not follow the law regarding these claims. I have seen claims turned down for the following presumptive illnesses: Chronic fatigue syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and Irritable bowel syndrome Being a presumptive for their service in the gulf, the veteran only needs to show they served in the gulf and that they had the illness on or before 31 December 2011 ratable to 10 percent or more. In the last 2 months, we have worked with over 200 veterans where the regional office had denied the claim stating that it did not start in service. This is one example of many more claims we have worked around our country.

We need a mandatory training program set up for all adjudicators and their supervisors to attend. By making it mandatory we will take care of a large problem of many adjudicators not going to any training after they get their job. As a part of this training, there needs to be a closed book test on the classes. Everyone that fails the test will need to redo the class and take the test until they pass. Once an adjudicator is certified to work an undiagnosed, TBI or PTSD claim, then that adjudicator will be allowed to rate those types of claims. There should also be a quality control system so that as an adjudicator’s claim comes back, either as a notice of disagreement or as a remand, the adjudicator must be retrained in that area again and retested. As before he will need to pass the test before he can rate claims in that area.

The NGWRC asks the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to work closely with the House Armed Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee to insure that the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) to not only budget, but also is appropriate $30,000,000 for the purpose of funding treatments for the estimated 200,000 Gulf War veterans suffering from chronic multi-symptom illnesses. This money will once again go into the DoD Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. With many of the returning veterans starting to show problems too, the number of sick is much higher.

NGWRC supports the program because the (CDMRP) is an innovative, open, peer reviewed program focused on identifying effective treatments, with first priority for pilot studies of treatments already approved for other diseases, so they could be put to use immediately. Nearly 20 years since the start of the war, one-third to one-fourth of Gulf War veterans continue to suffer from chronic multi-symptom illness, according to the IOM report released this year, and there are still no effective treatments.

We would like $10,000,000 of the funding to go back to Dr. Haley’s research being done in Texas. The Congress approved $75,000,000 for his research at UTSWMC over a five year time frame. With the VA now redirecting the funding to different studies and the last of Dr Haley’s studies needing to be completed, this money is needed now. To see the importance of the finding, we also ask that you do a joint hearing to hear from Dr. Haley on what his research has found and how it will help the veterans. We were not happy when the VA spent $11 million of the $15 million on a piece of equipment that is not for the use of research into gulf war treatment.

NGWRC requests that Congress remove the presumptive deadlines in the CFR 38 section 1117. By removing the deadline for gulf war illness, you would be doing what was done for the veterans of Vietnam and their exposure to Agent Orange.  We still have veterans coming home from Southwest Asia that are getting sick. Researchers still do not know fully why we are sick, but they do believe it most likely is due to the different chemicals. In many of the briefings from researchers, they all say that as time goes on, there will be even more problems affecting us.

NGWRC would like Congress to enact legislation granting a presumption of service connection for our Gulf War veterans who deployed to the theatre of operation and who are diagnosed with auto-immune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, and auto-immune diseases that act like MS but cannot be diagnosed as MS yet. VA has granted service connection based on the Secretary’s authority under existing regulations. These grants should be made permanent for existing and future veterans so that these very sick and highly vulnerable veterans aren’t needlessly forced to fight diligently when the science is so clear. The November 2008 VA report does show the three leading causes for the chronic multi-symptom illnesses are chemicals. We are just now starting to understand how these chemicals cause these different auto-immune disorders. While strong evidence linked ALS and brain cancer to Gulf War deployment, we believe the research on auto-immune disorders similar to ALS shows the same results.

In conclusion, the NGWRC would like to thank you for your continued interest in this important subject. We regret we are not able to appear in person. We look forward to working with you on these critical issues identified here as well as on other issues impacting our Gulf War, Iraq War, and Afghanistan War veterans, their immediate access to the VA’s high-quality healthcare, and the prompt receipt of disability compensation benefits.

Thank you,

James A. Bunker
President
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