By Denise Nichols
The National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition announces its analysis of the latest Department of Veterans Affairs Release of Data entitled "May 2002 Gulf War Veterans Information System" in this point paper presentation. (The actual DVA report can be accessed by clicking on the hyperlink here.) The data released is startling in the numbers of Gulf War casualties twelve years after Operation Desert Storm. The analysis leads to a call for urgent action as our troops again are deploying to the Persian Gulf Region.
This is a perilous time for our nation and lessons learned as a consequence of the 1990-91 conflict have not been utilized to optimize combat readiness and medical care. Critical Points revealed by the data presented in the report are highlighted below.
1. As demonstrated in the summary table in the Executive Summary, when you look at the ""conflict"" column, which means service during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, 82 percent of the troops that participated in the Gulf War are eligible for VA benefits:
36 percent of eligible veterans have already filed claims, which is an astronomical number in comparison to claims filed after earlier wars. (This in fact is our reported casualty rate from the Gulf War). 11 percent of the veterans that have applied for care have been denied. And of 6 percent who submitted claims for undiagnosed illnesses, 73 percent have been denied help in direct contradiction of the law President Bush signed into affect on 27 December 2001 (which the VA has failed to write regulations to enact that law eight months later).
2. In the same summary chart, there is another interesting development. When you look at the ""Gulf War era"" veteran that did not serve in theater of war, a full 57 percent are now eligible for veteran status, of which 28 percent of those eligible have applied for VA help, and 82 percent of those that have applied have received VA claims approval (era) vs. 76 percent (war veterans). One must ask why this is occurring.
Are the "era" veterans showing a higher rate due to any number of factors to include the utilization of anthrax vaccine causing illness-related casualties from active service? Is there a potential for other causes from secondary vector sources?
Is there a discrimination between actual war veterans and those that did not serve in a war zone? Is there a lack of accountability for caring for our Gulf War veterans, and if so why?
3. During the war there were 467 wounded in action, 148 battle deaths, and 145 non-battle deaths. That means we had a 0 .1 percent casualty rate in the war as compared to a confirmed postwar casualty rate of 27.7 percent. (* means 1/10 percent .1 or 0.1%)
Consequently during any future wars, government leaders must consider not only the wartime casualties, but all casualties that manifest for years afterwards. This means we must reconsider if we truly won round one of the Gulf Conflict in 1991.
Although the numbers of service-connected deaths included in the May 2002 data is considered "raw data" we must be concerned. The public should know that these figures are most likely incomplete and would probably be low in comparison to reality. The deaths reported in the VA study do not include deaths of those Gulf War veterans who died after leaving the service and who did not apply for VA medical care.
We call on the leaders of this country to utilize death data from all sources to determine the true death rate.
Nevertheless, in one of the charts in Section 5 of this report, the death rate for conflict veterans is now at 1 percent. This has occurred in less than 12 years. The death rate for era veterans is 0.7 percent. The death rate for deployed was 9.15 percent. The death rate for all who served in theater is 0.5 percent. This data is deeply concerning because it is an incomplete count and occurred in a healthy population (physically fit cohort population). Our soldiers are healthier than the general population or they would not have been or still be deployed for combat duty.
We call for comparisons to be made with the death rate of the normal population of the same age group nationally.
Our nation as we approach another round in the Gulf War must know what all the costs of war will be, not only for the direct time of conflict but for the years following the war.
4. Looking at data provided for the Saudi base at Al Jubayl reveals the following data:
This in a known contaminated location of the war zone and with confirmed scud exposures. Many of these veterans were the Seabees that have been in Dr Robert Hailey's study in Dallas, Texas.
This is totally and completely unacceptable for these veterans to be denied assistance from the VA. And thus why we are calling for the Service connection decision be reevaluated immediately in these veteran.
The VA should have all cases at AL Jubayl re-rated and service connected immediately. These veterans need help and financial assistance without furth delay, after all it has been 11 years since they returned as WAR Heroes!
Over half of their claims are for undiagnosed illnesses and 70 percent of those filing for undiagnosed illness have been denied in direct disregard of the law signed by President Bush. America needs to care for Round One casualties of the Gulf War before we begin Round Two.
5. The Data on Compensation and pension clearly shows we have a 36 percent reported after-the-fact casualty rate(ranging from 36% conflict, 28%theater, 33% deployed, 28% era, 18% total).
VA has confirmed a 27 percent casualty rate. (ranging from 27% conflict, 22 % theater ,26% deployed, 23% era , 24% total)
WE believe this shows a mixed exposure to a number of different factors, that can not truly give us a single silver bullet-cause! It is a combined and mixed exposure pattern.
11 percent of Gulf War veterans have been denied assistance after requesting assistance (Range 13.8% for Conflict and 8.37% being theater). 11 percent of the veterans have been denied service connection, with the highest denial of service connection being conflict veterans(13%) and lowest percentage (8%) being theater. 27 percent of those casualties were service-connected but are not receiving any financial assistance from the VA or DoD. Again, this data clearly shows an alarming casualty rate 11 years after Round One in the Gulf. And again, we have not cared for the casualties fully. At the time of the Gulf War in 1990-91, the VA stated emphatically that it was ready to provide care for the Gulf War veterans, but this data does not prove that point.
6. The data provided in Section 5 of the VA Report concerning Gulf War veterans shows data on undiagnosed illnesses statistics. In analysis, it shows:
A. Undiagnosed illness
Claimed in war 2 percent
Served in theater 0.3 percent
All Deployed 1.4 percent
This shows that many Gulf War vets have not utilized the undiagnosed illness category which could mean either that their illnesses are being diagnosed or that the service officers and the veterans are unfamiliar with the utilization of this method of applying for a claim. It is interesting that no data have been provided on era veterans that are experiencing undiagnosed illnesses.
B. Denial Rate
This data again show the lack of implementing the newest law for Gulf War veterans a full eight months after it was signed into law.
C. For those who served in the war, 1.9 percent were granted service connection for undiagnosed illnesses, but receive no compensation or pension.
D. 73 percent have been rated non-service-connected, 29 percent service- connected that applied, and 48 percent who are service-connected or non-service-connected receive no compensation or pension.
E. For those who served in theater, 15 percent were service-connected, and 84 percent were non-service-connected. Fifty-one percent who were service-connected or non- service-connected receive no compensation or pension.
F. For all those deployed, 25 percent were service-connected and 74 percent non-service-connected. Forty-eight percent of those deployed who were service-connected or non-service connected receive no compensation or pension.
This data shows the need to call on the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi to immediately implement regulations to meet his lawful duty concerning public law. It also calls on the need for training of Veteran Service Officers to be aware of the undiagnosed illnesses [provision] and the means of addressing that component in their claims submissions.
This data also calls for the review of why veterans are not receiving compensation when they have been rated, and this should be included in future reports.
There also appears to be a need to address and review the issue of service connection. Service connection is very important to veterans. How do they really know if it is service connected or not? The criteria for this decision factor needs to be reviewed and critiqued!
It is critically important to realize this data provided is from April 2002, a full five months ago.
Additional comments on the data include the lack of data on cancer rates, the lack of recommendations on deficiencies noted by the VA to show a proactive spirit in helping veterans, the timeliness of the report shows a three-month delay in release of this data a direct breaking of the laws that have been in place for several years. When will we have the most up- to-date figures? Where is the data for the August report?
An important factor to be considered in reviewing all the data provided is that this is incomplete data, many veterans are still ill and unreported. This is directly due to the lack of assistance and outreach to meet their needs when they are ill and need assistance.
An astonishing factor hidden in the data in the VA's report is that those who were deployed after the war into theater are ill also! They have received anthrax vaccine and oral polio vaccine, they have been exposed to the theater of operations that was contaminated by chemicals and depleted uranium.
The press and the nation wonders why are the Arabs, Moslems mad and attacking the United States? Well, has anyone figured it out, they are ill from exposures from the war! Think about the parallel with Agent Orange exposure and the Vietnamese we all know the birth defects and cancer rates that the Vietnamese had to live with after Vietnam. There is a battle going on now to get the U.S. government to help the Vietnamese in relationship to Agent Orange.
The data also shows that era veterans are ill but at a lower level. Fifty-seven percent of the era veterans are now eligible to apply for VA care and out of that a whooping 28 percent have filed claims. How does this compare with era veterans of the Vietnam War, and if it is disproportional then why? Era veterans have also been vaccinated and experienced secondary exposure from returning equipment and personnel. ERA veterans may have served in the Gulf area during the [1980-88] Iran-Iraq War or the lead-up to the Gulf War and they may also be the veterans that were serving in Israel which was hit by Scuds during the war (that group does not fit into the definition of being in the Gulf theater.)
Civilians - meaning service personnel wives and children - have reported in ill but no data has been provided on that! These service personnel sent home items from the Gulf and then returned, themselves and more equipment after the war.
Members of the same units, who did not go to the war but dealt with returning equipment from the Gulf have reported ill.
Civilians at the port sites that work with the equipment returning from the Gulf have reported in ill. Their families have also experienced health problems.
Remember, diseases and exposures travel by vectors and a vector can be equipment or personnel.
Remember also that the report just covers the U.S. casualties that have reported into the VA and DoD and not those that have utilized civilian sources. Remember also the data does not include coalition nations'' soldiers health data.
Gulf War veteran groups have tried for over 12 years to get the DoD, VA, Congress and several administrations to admit their lack of accountability and to apply lessons learned to improve the medical care of injured and ill combat veterans.
The civilian public is no better prepared because of this lack of utilizing lessons learned by the military. Doctors and researchers that have seen the reality of Gulf War Illness have desperately tried to help but have been ignored and attacked professionally. A handful of these doctors and researchers try desperately to get the message out in any way possible but they are prevented from actually helping the nation.
The control exerted by the government in money (research fund control) and control of universities, hospitals, and medical associations is truly a spider's web to prevent the knowledge from being distributed.
The VA Department of Defense do not educate their physicians on Gulf War Illness, nor participate in true research (because the contributing factors have been denied by the DoD), nor provide true treatment options. They exert control to keep the Gulf War veterans trapped and dying. So, how can the civilian medical world even grasp this area of medicine when the government exerts overwhelming control?
This data needs to also be correlated with known gas mask and MOPP suit deficiencies documented by the GAO in order to assess whether our troops are adequately prepared and protected for Round Two in the Gulf.
Homeland Security needs to pay attention to the lessons learned by the Gulf War Veterans. If we continue to fail to provide medical care for previous combat casualties, how can we expect any of our nation's sons or daughters to willfully participate in combat in the future? As we watch yet another group of warriors prepare once more for war in the Persian Gulf, we know that existing force protection, medical care, and reporting accountability deficiencies have not been resolved.
We call for immediate joint hearings involving both the Senate and the House to resolve the urgent needs of Gulf War I veterans. Hearings need to also determine the combat readiness of our current force and the allocation and use of medical resources to meet anticipated future needs. We owe this as a nation to those combat veterans who have and will defend our cherished freedoms.
We call for Secretary of Veterans Affairs Principi to immediately implement the Public Law signed by President Bush on 27 December 2001.
We call on Secretary Principi to address the comments on the missing data regarding cancers and diagnosed illnesses in Gulf War veterans and to demonstrate a proactive stance in finally meeting the needs of Gulf War veterans from Round one.
We call on Secretary Principii to make public what improvements have been made in the past 12 years, to prove that the VA is truly ready for Round Two in the Persian Gulf.
We call for Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld to preserve any data collected in the past 12 years since the 1990-91 Gulf War. We call for Secretary Rumsfeld to report on what really happened in Round one of the Gulf War.
WE request for the Secretary of the VA to immediately review the ratings and service connection determinations for the veterans who served at Al Jubayl.
WE call for an immediate review and release of Data on Undiagnosed illness in All Deployed and ERA Veterans.
We call for an immediate review of service members families reporting undiagnosed illnesses. We call for the Public Health Service to evaluate Civilians that have been reporting undiagnosed illnesses after being in contact with Equipment/personnel from the gulf War.
We call for the Inspector General to take IMMEDIATE Action to Insure Implementation of the Public Law Signed by President Bush on 27 December 2001.
WE call for Immediate Training of ALL DOD and VA physicians in regards to Hazardous Materials Exposures by qualified physicians and researchers including DR Hailey.
We call on Secretary Rumsfeld to report on how the armed services will treat the next round of casualties from the Persian Gulf.
Nichols, a Gulf War veteran and retired U.S. Air Force Reserve major, is Vice Chairman of the National Vietnam Veteran and Gulf War Veterans Coalition. She can be reached at DSNurse@aol.com
* post war confirmed casualty rate (number of claims granted divided by estimated veterans)
(Calculation not including raw data on deaths) =27.7%
Referance Numbers with regard to other wars, as per Ross Perot's Testimony /Congressman Shays hearing: