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VA secretary releases draft Gulf War task force report

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced March 31 that the department's Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Task Force has completed the final draft of a comprehensive report that will redefine how VA officials address the concerns of veterans who deployed during the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991.

"Our mission at VA is to be advocates for veterans," Secretary Shinseki said. "This report's action plans provide a roadmap to transform the care and services we deliver to Gulf War veterans. We must learn from the past and take the opportunity to anticipate the future needs of our veterans."

Notification of the draft written report will be published in the Federal Register April 1.  The draft written report identifies seven areas where VA officials will improve services for this group of veterans.

Among these improvements, VA representatives will reconnect with veterans from the 1990 - 1991 Gulf War, strengthen the training of clinicians and claims processors and reenergize the department's research effort. They also will proactively strengthen partnerships and medical surveillance to address the potential health impacts on veterans from the environmental exposures on today's battlefields.

Earlier this month, VA officials published a proposed rule that will enable department specialists to grant service connection on a presumptive basis for nine specific infectious diseases associated with military service in Southwest Asia after August 2, 1990, or in Afghanistan on or after September 19, 2001. The proposed rule change was based on a recent Institute of Medicine review of the scientific literature, and is a part of VA's on-going Gulf War studies. This rule, when implemented, will make it easier for veterans to obtain disability compensation and related healthcare.

The mission of VA's Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Task Force is to identify both gaps in services as well as opportunities to better serve veterans of the Gulf War. Of the almost 700,000 service members who deployed to Operation Desert Shield in 1990 and Operation Desert Storm in 1991, more than 300,000 have filed disability claims and more than 85 percent have been granted service connection for at least one condition.

The chairman of the task force is John R. Gingrich, chief of staff at VA.  He is a retired Army officer who also served during the Gulf War.

"Reaching out to Gulf War veterans is not only essential to our transformation of VA, for many of us it is also personal," said Mr. Gingrich. "Having commanded troops in the Gulf War, and then knowing that some of these brave men and women have fallen to mysterious illnesses has been both a frustrating and saddening experience. We now have an opportunity to do something about this situation.  With this task force, I know that we will improve the care and services these veterans have earned."

The Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses Task Force recommendations build on the work and findings of The Gulf War Veterans Illnesses Advisory Committee, the VA Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses, the interagency Deployment Health Working Group and other related sources. Some of the task force's recommendations include:

Improve data sharing with the Department of Defense to notify veterans of potential exposures, monitor their long-term health and inform them about decisions regarding additional follow up.

-- Improve the delivery of benefits to veterans with Gulf War-related disabilities by:

-- Reviewing and, if necessary, updating regulations affecting Gulf War veterans.

-- Expanding training for Veterans Benefit Administration examiners on how to administer disability claims with multiple known toxin exposure incidents.

-- Improve VA healthcare for veterans through a new model of interdisciplinary health education and training.

-- Increase number of long-term, veteran-focused studies of veterans to enhance the quality of care VA provides.

-- Transition from reactive to proactive medical surveillance to help better manage veterans' potential hazardous exposures.
 
-- Find new treatments for Gulf War veterans through new research.

-- Enhance outreach to provide information and guidance to veterans about benefits and services available to them for injuries/illnesses associated with Gulf War service.

As a first step, VA officials are seeking public comments on the draft written report before final publication. The public notice will be posted at www.Regulations.gov, and the draft written report will be open for comment for thirty days. Comments also may be submitted via mail as described in the public notice.

In addition, VA officials recognize that a great number of Gulf War veterans use a computer on a daily basis to socialize their issues and concerns, so they have also created a public discussion board on the seven recommendations at: http://yourgulfwarvoice.uservoice.com. To view the report without making recommendations, visit VA's website at http://www1.va.gov/opa/vadocs/gwvi_draft_report.pdf.

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