By Mark Anderson, American Free Press corresponding editor & Host of "When Worlds Collide" on RBN, each Saturday, 7 to 9 p.m. central
Some vigilant veterans are concerned that federal officials are not doing nearly enough to get the word out about important upcoming meetings concerning research and treatment of sick veterans.
Former gulf war Air Force nurse Denise Nichols is strongly concerned that not enough veterans will show up for these meetings, including the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses meeting in Dallas, Texas Feb 23-24, 2009; and the meeting of a newer committee in Decatur, Georgia on Feb. 18-19.
The first of the two committees, whose July 2007 and November 2008 meetings were covered by AFP, also meets June 29-30, 2009 in Boston, and Nov. 2-3, 2009 in Washington D.C. again. The D.C. meeting last November featured the long-awaited release of the committee’s special report that moved gulf war illness from the status of "it’s all in your head, soldier," to an array of physical symptoms linked to certain causes in the gulf war theater of military operations in the early 1990s.
The second panel (www1.va.gov/gulfwaradvisorycommittee) will meet at the VA Medical Center in Decatur, Georgia; that panel will meet again March 18-19, 2009 in Waco, Texas; and April 7-9, 2009 in Washington, DC (last two venues TBD)
"In April 2008, the Secretary of U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs established the Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans," notes an official VA statement on the newer committee. "The purpose of the Advisory Committee is to provide advice to the Secretary on the full spectrum of health care and benefits issues that confront veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the 1990-1991 period of the Gulf War. To carry out these duties, the Committee is expected to assess both the effectiveness of existing benefits and services and to determine the need for new initiatives and/or policies that relate exclusively to this population of veterans."
Nichols added: "Committee meetings are open to the public and include time reserved for public comments. A sign-up sheet for five-minute comments will be available…. Members of the public who speak are invited to submit a 1-2 page summary of their comments at the time of the meeting for inclusion in the official meeting record. Individuals do not need to preregister to attend or speak…. However, when meetings are held at VA headquarters or facilities, all attendees will be required to check in and show valid ID at the security desk."
"This is your chance gulf war veterans!" Nichols continued. "We have had only at most half a dozen vets show up in D.C., Baltimore, Seattle [other recent meetings]. So if you have problems, now is the time to come forward. Have your input [ready]. Family members, too!"
"Nichols continued that elected officials of state and federal level should also send their staff members to see how the process is going in acessing the needs of gulf war veterans! "This process needs to include US Senators, US Reps, State Reps, State senators, state departments of veterans affairs, veteran service organizations Commanders at state level and their service officers so they can input and see for themselves the needs that exist. These individuals need to be notified by the VA but sadly the VA does not use their extensive public affairs to communicate with veterans or the elected or appointed leaders from Federal to local levels. "
Nichols has asked the committee to open the VA’s vast teleconferencing network at each VA hospital across the nation to facilitate a more rapid and open dialogue. In this manner, the advisory committee could quickly access all across this country veterans, care providers, all officials, and veterans’ family members in a more cost saving method to find out the facts and needs. Nichols states "veterans and their families have been disenfranchised over 18 years, the gulf war veterans tried repeated to access the VA system and were denied!" Now they are expecting veterans like that to travel and spend money they dont have to again try to get the system to respond! If they would open the door to each VA auditorium across the country and turn on the videoconferencing system we could accomplish this more quickly and hear the veterans.
Nichols used her most recent communication from just one of thousands of gulf war veterans to highlight problems. The message text she received is one of thousands she has received and reflects how the gulf war veterans are sufferring.
"I am unable speak for other Gulf War Vets, but I can tell you how I feel about the meetings and such. I am not able to attend the meetings because they are so far away, either lack of funds or my illness prevent me from attending. I know that we have waited a long time to be heard, but I know of some; like me, who have lost everything! If it was not for family I would be just another homeless Veteran. My elderly parents have taken me in, and I still have my claim on appeal."
Nichols states that she is "atonished that the gulf war illness has been so neglected by the media, pubblic officials, and the common citizen." "She goes further to state that it is an outright crime that VA/DOD and our government that has public media resources and assets fails so miserably in sharing communication of utmost importance to these veterans and expects the ill and often dying veterans to do the public relations work and outreach that is so despitely needed."
All veterans and their local leaders, said Nichols, should place postings on grocery store bulletin boards, email networks, write letters to the editor to local papers, call radio shows, get public service announcements on the air, discuss the upcoming meetings at local veterans’ posts and do all they can to get the word out and boost attendance and input for both committees.
"We need every gulf war veteran and their families notified of these meetings," Nichols continued. "They need to write a summary including: name, former rank, unit, location in theater, when and what symptoms occurred, when and what happened when they went to VA for help, how/if was their VA claims were handled, where did they turn next to get help, what state their health is in right now, and any problems that the spouse and family may have had — and suggestions for changes."
For more specific information on places, times, schedules, etc. go to www.va.gov and proceed to "search," and enter "advisory committees." For the latest casualty figures, see that same website and enter GWVIS in the search box.
Suggestions and information from veterans, physicians, scientists, and members of the general public are welcome at these committee meetings.
Key VA contacts are: Laura O’Shea, Designated Federal Officer, Laura.O’[email protected]; and Lelia Jackson, Alternate Designated Federal Officer, [email protected]