Last year, Olympic skater and recent bronze medalist Chris Knierim said goodbye to his father, an Army veteran who participated in Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 effort to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and repel Iraq’s assault into Saudi Arabia. He remembered his father’s sacrifice during this years Olympics.
Chris’ father, Jeff, was negatively impacted by the detonation of Bunker 73, which was filled with sarin gas and other forms of deadly nerve agents, which when destroyed sent poisonous gas rocketing miles into the sky only to hit the Jetstream and be carried downwind over unsuspecting U.S. troops. Jeff suffered numerous health issues on his return from the Persian Gulf War and in April 2017, the forty-nine-year-old veteran died of a brain aneurysm.
It’s no secret the Department of Veterans Affairs has done very little to advance service connected care and disability compensation for veterans impacted by Gulf War Illness (GWI). In fact, a Jun 2017 report released by the Government Accountability Office noted VA’s failure to train staff in the conduct of Gulf War medical exams. GAO also pointed out that VA’s decision letters to veterans often lacked important information, VA lacked a plan regarding key research goals, and that approval rates for GWI were three times lower than for other types of medical issues. An example of the latter point can be found in New Mexico VA’s denial of 592 of 640 claims related to GWI – a 90% denial rate and WACO Texas VA, which denied 92% of its GWI claims.
Yet, the problem is not just that VA has failed to uphold its responsibilities to Gulf War veterans, as GAO captured in its report, but that VA has actively worked against veterans impacted by GWI. For example, VA replaced member of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses who were critical of the departments efforts. VA then altered the charter for that same committee, so it could no longer provide the same level of critical oversight. VA has also failed to share data for effective treatment of GWI.
Congressional hearings over the years have also repeatedly found VA at fault in addressing both the health care needs of Gulf War veterans and proper claims processing for the same. I have also written about this matter at length in The SAGE Encyclopedia of War: Social Science Perspective (2017) citing publicly available evidence in support of my argument (no, I do not receive any compensation for referencing my article-or for writing it- and if I can make it available here, I will do so).
The point is this: If numerous congressional hearings and agency reports cannot move VA to address its long standing failure to actively address its identified shortcomings toward Persian Gulf War veterans, who can we count on to do so?
As GWI veterans know, a claim denied is care denied and the lack of care is likely to mean an untimely death for many of us. Share your opinion in the comments section and contact your U.S. congressional representative if you would like to see VA take better care of veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.