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Gulf War illness advocates skeptical of institute panel

Jun. 26, 2013 - 10:04AM   |  
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Veterans advocates expect a showdown between Gulf War veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday when veterans plan to declare they have “no confidence” in new research commissioned by the VA through the Institute of Medicine, advocates say.

The Institute of Medicine will conduct its first meeting Wednesday to determine the definition of Gulf War illness, sparking concern that VA will label it as psychiatric, or, as it has done most recently, lump it into the category of “chronic multisymptom illness.” That category includes veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, which is caused after exposure to trauma, or traumatic brain injuries.

“I am very concerned as an ill Gulf War veteran that IOM Gulf War committees and the board overseeing them are disproportionately made up of individuals predisposed toward views of Gulf War Illness that do not reflect current scientific knowledge, including the idea that it is fundamentally psychiatric or psychosomatic,” wrote Anthony Hardie, a Gulf War vet and Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, in a letter to the institute.

VA officials “reject the notion some have put forward that these physical health symptoms experienced by Gulf War Veterans arise as a result of mental health issues like post-traumatic stress and TBI,” said Josh Taylor, a department spokesman.

The Institute of Medicine is an independent, nonprofit research arm of the National Academies, an umbrella research organization that includes academies for science and engineering.

In January, advocacy groups criticized an institute report that said there are too many symptoms or illnesses to determine a cause or cure for a single problem related to service in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The Research Advisory Committee was formed after Congress found VA had focused most, if not all, of its attention on psychiatric causes of the illness, which affects about 250,000 veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Since then, researchers have found changes in the veterans’ brains that signify physical degeneration, possibly caused by environmental exposure. Other studies have determined that a greater number of troops than initially thought may have been exposed to small doses of Sarin gas after the Air Force bombed an Iraqi chemical factory.

Symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, cognitive issues, rashes and irritable bowel syndrome.

Last month, committee members accused VA of an attempted gutting of their group, claiming that half of their members were to be replaced and that their chairman, James Binns,was being pushed out.

Taylor said the changes in the committee’s charter were decided last fall and were part of a plan to make all advisory committees follow the same procedures.

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