09 October 2014

VA Fires Gulf War Advisory Committee Leadership

James Binns, former Gulf War Advisory Chair
Despite strenuous objections from Gulf War Advisory Committee members whose terms were continuing, VA Secretary Bob McDonald bowed to recommendations from VHA's Post Deployment Health to replace current chairman James Binns of Phoenix. Binns and his departing colleagues had sought reappointment to continue their investigation of Gulf War issues, which they feel VA has failed to address.

Binns and his committee have been thorns in the side of the Department of Veterans Affairs for years. Binns points to the Institute of Medicine study on Gulf War vets as strongly suggestive of Gulf War illnesses being some misunderstood combination of toxic threats, immunizations, smoke and genetics...but VA has fought tooth and nail to prevent any presumption of service connection for the illnesses GIs have developed.

Rick Weidman of Vietnam Veterans of America and leaders of the other major service organizations have gone straight to the top on this, and Congress has listened. Rick and his allies have asked that the President realize veterans have lost faith in the VA, and want the Gulf War Advisory Committee to report to Congress, rather than the VA. This may involve Constitutional issues, however, regarding the separation of powers.

To be clear: every voice that matters was behind Binns and his colleagues continuing in their service except Post Deployment Health, Veterans Heatlh Administration.

Recently, Under Secretary Allison Hickey drew criticism for her direct approach to the IOM committee to suggest rephrasing their reports' terminology. Usually, VA influence over the committee, which is decisive enough, extends to whether to fund a study in the first place, whether to cancel it (as was done with the failed 2012 promise for an IOM C-123 report,) how to phrase the assignment to the committee, and what documents to release to best "guide" the committee to VA's desired conclusion. Then finally, whether or not to impliment the IOM's suggestions.

Weidman's VVA, DAV, VFW, American Legion and the other veterans service organizations feel the problem calls for the Gulf War Advisory Committee to report to Congress from now on.

That's the only approach, given the staff agenda's in Post Deployment Health and their determination to prevent veterans' claims. Veterans grow curious as to what marching orders they've been given...or gave themselves.

We'll see how just how tightly controlled Secretary McDonald is by VHA in his selection of replacement Gulf War Committee members, and whether those members will represent science, or Post Deployment Health.

Veterans who've been well-served by Post Deployment Health's excellent War Illness and Injury Study Center (as has been this writer) point out that it is an exceptional service which VA should be proud of, and which veterans greatly appreciate. But the Post Deployment Health record on exposures and related disability claims is overwhelmingly disappointing and a disservice to the Nation.

Thanks to the Arizona Republic which has led the nation in coverage of the 2014 scandals, and which hasn't been afraid to offer suggestions as well. A serious contender for a Pulitzer, we hope.

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