Sunday, March 8, 2009

Gulf War vets committee in limbo, Temple meeting canceled

Gulf War vets committee in limbo, Temple meeting canceled

Sunday, March 08, 2009

By Regina Dennis

Tribune-Herald staff writer

One Crawford man worries that the national Veteran Affairs advisory committee he fought to establish is being hastily shut down.

Kirt Love, a Gulf War veteran, was appointed to the Gulf War Veterans Advisory Committee last year after several years of pushing the VA and local legislators to create it. The committee received an 18-month charter to explore medical and administrative issues plaguing Gulf War Veterans.

Now, the committee chairman is hoping to end the committee’s work in the coming months, ahead of the committee’s dissolution date in December.

“I fought very hard for this committee, and I know that we need it,” Love said. “I was really irritated that they gave us an 18-month charter, and now our committee chairman is trying to wrap it up before a year. He’s trying to wrap it up way too fast.”

For one, Love said, the committee has not spent enough time gathering input from veterans, having traveled only to Atlanta, Seattle, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Love said more time needs to be spent in developing a policy to address veterans’ concerns with communication and transparency in the VA.

However, committee Chairman Charles L. Cragin thinks the information and research the committee has done thus far is sufficient.

“I think we have spent a great deal of time and we’ve developed a great deal of information, and left to my own devices, I would say let’s go forward and produce a product,” Cragin said. “From my personal perspective, I think it would be useful to move this committee to its final process of writing a report and making a recommendation.”

At the last committee meeting, in Atlanta, Cragin tasked members with drafting recommendations to send its report to the VA to be discussed and compiled in a meeting in Washington, D.C., in April.

But that meeting may not happen. The committee is currently on standby as the VA reviews all advisory committees, in compliance with President Barack Obama’s mandated review of all governmental agencies.

That forced the committee to cancel a two-day conference in Temple on March 18 and 19. Even if the committee is green-lighted to continue, Cragin said he did not know whether the Temple meeting would be rescheduled.

Love said he suspects that VA officials may be pressuring for a quick end to the Gulf War committee’s work to take focus off the plight of Gulf War veterans.

“When our committee wraps up, all we will have is the (Gulf War) Research Advisory Committee, and all they deal with is research. This is outside of their venue,” Love said. “So the VA will be perfectly happy for things to go back to the way they are with us having no communication point.”

Love himself endured a lengthy battle in receiving treatment and diagnosis for his own Gulf War-related illnesses, stemming from exposure to chemical and biological agents during Operation Desert Storm. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, digestive problems and various neurological disorders, Love adopted an organic, agrarian lifestyle that improved his health, though he said complications still arise.

Love said he will propose establishing a permanent panel or committee that will address treatment and benefits issues. He will also suggest more thorough testing for Gulf War illnesses beyond the standard medical exam, which he said is necessary to catch the array of medical issues most Gulf War veterans develop.

Love said he will continue fighting for focus on Gulf War issues after the committee’s work ends, whether that is sooner or later.

“Once I’m off this committee, I’m back in the machine again,” Love said. “I’m back out there without a mouthpiece or spokesman or anything, I’ll be right back in the same system. So I’m fighting for my own care as much as anybody else’s.”

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