OFFERED TO THE HOUSE VA COMMITTEE
Thank you, Mr Chairman and House Subcommittee members for inviting our testimony today. It has been 11 years since the Gulf War and Lessons should have been learned that need to be applied now and in the future.
We believe, that the first lesson learned has to do with fragmented records in the theater of war. Hopefully this issue is being given top priority. Medical records were fragmented, lost, hand carried, and then attempts made much later to find them and get them remarried up with reports and individual records. This simply can not happen again. There has never been a fully implemented regulation in regards to medical records maintenance in a theater of war and how they are to be handled and accounted for once the war is concluded. This must be rectified immediately. A tracking system must be initiated and maintained and quality control needs to be instituted.
The second lesson learned has to do with the maintenance of shot and records of preventive actions (pb) records and the recording of vaccine reactions for the individual service member, the individual's medical record, and for centralized record keeping. An educational process and a regulation must be implemented immediately. VAERS forms should be part of the process so that oversight can be completed by the FDA. There needs to be an independent agency permanently in place to provide oversight to this critical issue.
The third lesson is that documentation of environmental exposures need to be done for each service member. A regulation needs to be written, and reviewed by outside experts, and then implemented immediately. The regulation needs to cover documentation of chemical alarms, preventive measures taken(PB, vaccines, etc), environmental exposure (pesticides, endemic diseases, smoke, fire, DU and other weapon components, fuel exposures, etc), and biological exposures (projected, verified, unresolved). The documentation is needed in theater not as an after thought or after action. The theater surgeon needs to be held accountable for the overall institution of this regulation and then shared responsibility with each unit commander and medical unit.
The fourth lesson has to do with adequate laboratory testing for each individual being activated, deployed, or being involved in the pre deployment stage(those that receive vaccinations in preparation for being deployed), and those that are involved post deployment (secondary exposures from returning equipment or personnel). Each group needs to be identified clearly. Each group needs a complete baseline of laboratory data and samples maintained for future reference. The laboratory testing needs to extend past the common standard physical exam to include baseline viral panels, immunological panels, blood clotting studies(HEMAX-ISSAC Panel).
The fifth lesson is to have a more open mind set for veterans of a war whether deployed or not in a wartime period. It should be standard to think ahead to the post war needs. Each group of veterans should not have to suffer through years of battles with differences of opinion on potential or real exposures. There needs to be a more Proactive role played in relationship to the veteran that bore the cost of battle. The trust and faith in this nation has been impacted more than I believe the Hill or DOD wants to acknowledge and this is directly related to the history of the delay in recognizing veterans medical needs following each conflict. It becomes another war for the veteran/veterans to prove their medical problems and this war is against our own government and this is WRONG and MUST FOREVER BE CHANGED NOW. The DOD should not be allowed to stand between the servicemen and women and their individual medical needs. Never again should the integrity and honesty of your veterans be questioned. It belittles the veteran and only adds to the problems of readjustment of the returning troop. It demoralizes the past and present and future troops.
WE need a more proactive spirit in the VA. If a lab test is found that helps identify a medical problem. Then the VA should be the leader and embrace these new lab tests, instead of delaying potential medical discoveries/treatments and languishing in endless research. The majority of veterans receive no testing and no breakthroughs in potential medical treatment that could help stabilize them and possibly return them to good health. Endless battles are fought by researchers and veterans against the old standard of refusal and denial. Put a priority on lab work that leads to treatment modalities.
We must respond by keeping the check book open when our veterans return and need help. We should not have to go and battle for funds for the post war period for medical and compensation issues. This is simply poor planning and not maintaining the trust you have with each service member past, present, or future.
WE must fully implement that the benefit of the doubt goes to the veteran now, in the future, and in the past.
Our VA and military medicine must become a leader and not a follower. Laws need to be enacted to protect the whistle blower serviceman, commander, officer, doctors, and researchers. It has been the standard technique to deny, discredit, and malign those that step forward to help. These individuals are not enemies of the state, national security, or defense. These individuals have morals, ethics, and integrity for the freedoms we all hold so dear. The gulf war veterans know of civilian, military, VA doctors that have been harmed and intimidated for simply stepping forward to help the injured and affected veteran. We know of fellow service members/veterans of different ranks that have been order to stay quiet, not to speak up, and disciplined if they attempted to do so. The human rights and medical needs of the troops need to be a top priority immediately.
What is needed immediately for the gulf war veterans is immediate access to definite high level medical testing. This includes any lab test that might provide answers on the medical PHYSICAL state of the veteran. The laboratory tests that might directly lead to treatment needs to be implemented immediately without delay or debate. The Psychosomatic, psychiatric labeling of the gulf war veteran must be stopped. Psychiatric diagnosing is not to be utilized as priority over a complete physical examination and appropriate medical diagnosing. This is setting bad standards and a blind monkey approach that will hurt us as we look at the future of chemical and biological warfare. WE must be the leader not the denial agent. The military personnel, the veteran, and the public can handle any occurrence if dealt with honestly instead of dealt with by the employment of RISK MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES. WE are in the year 2002 and there is not time for us to repeat the mistakes of the past. The overall cost is immeasurable in public confidence and delays of medical breakthroughs. WE must not let the cost of medical needs block us from providing the best medical care for our soldiers and veterans.
WE are the leader of the free world and we must also be the leader in dealing with Medical Patient Rights that apply to the military and veteran as much as to the civilian public. This has become very clear to the American public since September.
Show us that you have heard the veterans of all past conflicts and have learned the lessons of the past. Treat the medical cost of servicemembers and veterans in a higher priority than spending extended to foreign aid and military equipment and transportation. Reevaluate and Reorder the priorities. Do not rob peter to pay paul. Pay the bills that are past due. Honor the commitment and contract made with your servicemembers and veterans. WE must all come to the table together to resolve these issues of the past and the future. That is where America's true strength lies. Thank you again for providing us this opportunity.