Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hearing to evaluate toll of wars on veterans' health

Hearing to evaluate toll of wars on veterans' health


The Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans, a special panel created last May to hear from and give voice to long-neglected veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, is coming to Seattle's veterans medical center on Beacon Hill.

The 14-member panel is designed to look at the human cost to Gulf veterans, who have suffered disproportionately from exposure to a variety of toxic substances in the war, veterans organizations say in urging turnout for the event.

The panel, which will be in the area Wednesday and Thursday, is making a first of its kind appearance in Seattle. The visit comes two months after a different research advisory committee finally determined that Gulf War illness is real, not an imaginary condition. That committee cited as two likely causes for the illness the pills that troops had to ingest to thwart nerve gas exposure as well as exposure to a pesticide.

According to veterans groups, more than 175,000 of the Gulf War veterans who served in theater now have serious illnesses connected to their service.

Locally, Julie Mock of Woodinville, national president of Veterans of Modern Warfare and a Gulf War veteran with service-connected multiple sclerosis, confirmed that she is among those testifying at length Wednesday.

Mock expects to address multiple sclerosis among Gulf War veterans. Though MS generally has not been recognized as a Gulf War-related illness, government studies have concluded that there is a disproportionate number of other neurological illnesses -- brain cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease and fibromyalgia -- among veterans.

Mock also believes the children of Gulf War veterans need to be monitored for physical and neurological ailments. Children of Vietnam veterans acquired disorders connected to the Agent Orange chemical defoliant to which their parents were exposed. Other topics will include outreach, benefits and continued health care.

While the deadline for registering to speak has passed, veterans groups urge their fellow veterans to band together in attendance, and to submit written statements to the Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.

In addition, anyone interested in listening to the proceeding can dial into a free teleconference line from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday. To learn more about that, call the committee's policy analyst at 202-461-5765.

The panel was created by Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake last May in response to appeals to get solid numbers to gauge and fulfill the needs of Gulf War veterans, needs nearly overlooked as the nation ramped up in early 2001 to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Committee members include a Gold Star wife, Gulf War veterans, veterans service organization representatives and medical experts. The committee is chaired by Charles Cragin of Raymond, Maine, a retired Navy captain.

Attend the panel's open sessions in Seattle:

When: Open session from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with public comment for those who preregistered from 2:15 to 2:45 p.m.

Where: The VA Puget Sound Health Care System, 1660 S. Columbian Way, Building 100, Room BB108.

When: Open session from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. to discuss the committee's activities.

Where: The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Seattle, 1113 Sixth Ave.

P-I reporter Mike Barber can be reached at 206-448-8018 or Read his military blog at

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