Congressman wants to make VA access easier for Gulf vets
January 15, 2008
A U.S. congressman is asking the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a committee that would give Persian Gulf War veterans a better and simpler way to access VA resources.
In a Jan. 3 letter to VA Secretary James Peake, U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, requested the formation of a Gulf War Veteran Advisory Committee, writing that the current setup does not adequately address the range of issues facing those who fought in that 1991 war.
Edwards also chairs the U.S. House Military Appropriations Subcommittee.
“As you know, many of these veterans have felt neglected by the government — both the VA and the Defense Department — and while there are a wide range of issues they would like to raise, there is no common venue within the VA for them to raise their concerns,” the letter states.
Currently, the VA’s Research Advisory Committee is the only “Gulf War-focused entity” within the department, Edwards writes, and that committee’s charter is focused on medical research recommendations.
“While these issues are brought to the RAC, simply because its charter deals with Gulf War Illness, the RAC is not equipped or authorized to address them,” the letter states.
A committee focusing on Gulf War veterans would help identify and prioritize unmet needs while consolidating improvements to care and services for those veterans, Edwards writes.
In May the VA established the Advisory Committee on OIF/OEF Veterans and Families, which provides support for veterans of those wars. A similar entity should be available for Gulf War veterans, the letter states.
Including veterans of the conflict in the committee would be “critical,” he writes.
“I would hope the committee would have some autonomy, its own staff, and some members of the committee from outside the government,” the letter states. “I believe this would help the committee build trust with Gulf War veterans and therefore improve the committee’s ability to succeed from the outset.”
Kirt Love, a Gulf War veteran who served with the 1st Armored Division, asked for Edwards’ help in an effort to better communicate the needs of veterans from his war, which he feels are neglected.
Love said in an e-mail that he became “deathly ill” after the war and has struggled for answers.
“Currently VA pretends that Gulf War veterans do not exist and is non-responsive to any request made of them,” Love wrote in an e-mail. “Things are worse than ever before and VA doesn’t seem to care about that fact. So veterans like myself struggle with inferior care and minimal benefits, forgotten by the country we served faithfully in 1991.”
VA representatives did not return requests for comment by deadline Monday.
But Josh Taylor, an Edwards spokesman, wrote in an e-mail that “In general, Chairman Edwards felt this was an important issue to bring to the attention of the Secretary.”
And as the legislative session gets under way, there will be opportunities to discuss the committee further, Taylor said.