WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing today on Gulf War Illnesses research and treatment. The hearing was held at the request of fellow Committee members Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to focus on recent advances in research on Gulf War Illnesses.
"For me, as Chairman, the issue really is about protecting our men and women in uniform - taking care of those from past wars and ensuring the health of those in current and future wars," Akaka stated.
"DoD simply must be more diligent - and transparent - about providing our troops with health assessments both prior to and post-deployment overseas. We must all work together to make this a reality so that what happened to our troops in the first Persian Gulf War is not repeated."
The witnesses at today's hearing included: James Binns, Chairman, Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illness; Julie Mock, Gulf War Veteran and President, Veterans of Modern Warfare; Meryl Nass, MD, Director of Pulmonary Rehabilitation, Mount Desert Island Hospital, Bar Harbor, Maine; Lea Steele, PhD, Scientific Director, Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illness, and Senior Health Researcher, Kansas Health Institute; Roberta White, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health; Michael E. Kilpatrick, MD, Deputy Director for Force Health Protection and Readiness Programns, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs (accompanied by Col. Janet Harris, PhD, RN, Director of Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, Department of the Army); and Joel Kupersmith, MD, Chief Research and Development Officer, Veterans Health Administration (accompanied by Timothy O'Leary, MD, PhD, Director of Biomedical Laboratory and Clinical Science Research and Development Service, Department of Veterans Affairs).
Chairman Akaka's opening statement is copied below:
Good morning. Senators Sanders and Murray both asked that the Committee hold this hearing to focus on recent advances in research on, and treatment of, Gulf War Illnesses.
As Chairman, I must once again question whether DoD is protecting the health of troops, and whether they are adequately monitoring American servicemembers' health before, during, and after deployments. This is a legitimate focus for our Committee; today's troops are tomorrow's veterans. As servicemembers return from deployments abroad, many will separate from the military and become the newest generation of veterans. We need to ensure that VA has the capability to give these veterans the care they require.
We have this recent study on brain damage, and evidence that suggests there may be an elevated rate of ALS among Gulf War veterans. Further, the National Academy of Sciences has found that service in the Gulf places veterans at increased risk for anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse problems.
Unfortunately, as we have heard time and again, the reasons for these illnesses may never be known because important records were not kept or were lost. In addition, DoD did not track the location of individual troops, making it difficult to identify patterns among those who have fallen ill.
In short, DoD was not prepared to monitor and protect the health of troops during the Gulf War. For whatever reasons, the health of our own troops was not safeguarded, and many questions may remain forever unanswered.
This raises a basic question for me: are troops now receiving more than pro forma pre- and post-deployment physical examinations? The usefulness of these exams is not only critical to physical health but for mental health as well.
A grateful Nation must never forget that the decision to send our young people into harm's way must always go hand in hand with the knowledge that it will be our responsibility to care for those who have served.