Testimony of Denise Nichols
Thursday, October 12, 2000 9:37 PM

Good morning Senators, Mr Perot, Dr Hailey, and all government officials represented here today...

I am Denise Nichols a retired Air Force flight nurse(Major)(MSN) who served in the gulf war in theater from a TEXAS unit. I represent as Vice Chairman the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, a Coalition of 110 member groups nationally and internationally. But most of all I represent my fellow soldiers that I served with in the Gulf War. I advocate and care for them as much now as when I was on duty to care for them in the Gulf.

I am here today to that the VA and the DOD be removed from the investigation and research of Gulf War illness issues. It is time to move the research moneys to either another agency or ideally to multiple independent research centers that are geographically scattered across the United States. We, the veterans, have been advocating this since 1994 when we saw that truthful actions from the DOD were not occurring at the speed that was needed in relationship to our illnesses.

The Presidential Advisory Committee, prior to its extension into its second term, was on the very edge of calling for the removal of the DOD from the investigation. Sadly the members that saw the truth were outnumbered by those that had served in the government and were insulated in the status quo bureaucratic trap of the past.

Congressman Shays' subcommittee led a three year investigation into Gulf War illnesses and his committee's final recommendations stated that another agency or an independent agency. There are many dedicated physicians and researchers that have stood up to help the gulf war veterans.(American Association of Environmental Physicians) Other interested researchers and scientists are scattered across the United States, Britain, and other coalition countries. These doctors and researchers should be funded to include a diversity of approaches and specializations. The process of review that has occurred in relationship to the granting of research funding needs investigation and restructuring. There has been a prejudice to fund stress/psychological research vs real science. An example, is the denial of granting research funds for Dr William Boone who had performed semen analysis and electron microscope examination that showed an unidentified organism. The denial letter which I will provide the committee, stated in Reviewer B comments:

"highly controversial with political implications." At the time, the spouses of veterans were complaining of developing symptoms directly related to transmittability and an objective search to answer an immediate public health issue was delayed and still has not occurred.

How many other legitimate research projects to find the answers that remain in our bodies have been denied? How much more suffering and potential spread of these unidentified organisms has occurred in the last five years?

It is obvious, that DOD officials have no intention to provide the data and information required to permit the completion of essential research. Many of the theater's preventive medicine command staff did and continue to try to get the information out. These individuals should be called forward, under protection of law, so that their knowledge, experience, and observations can be used to optimize research outcomes. Accurate information will permit the effective allocation of funding with consequent outcomes in the best interest of all veterans.

The current research process is faulty. The process of providing care and collection of objective clinical observations has been obstructed. Many VA doctors when they stood up and said there was a problem through complete clinical assessment(including neurological), history taking observations, clinical diagnostic procedures and/or lab work were told not to speak up. Some answered the call, morally and ethically, and experienced retaliation. They were quickly shown the door out of the VA system. These doctors include: Dr Assif Durakovic(a doctor who served with us in theater), Dr Bill Baumzweiger(California VA), Dr Kathleen Leisure-Murray(Lebanon, PA), among many other physicians. We had a radiologist, with a specialty in performing PET and Spect Scans that found the same neurotoxic damage in every gulf war veteran he tested in Oklahoma. Another doctor who was shown the exit door of the VA in Oklahoma. Was his work compiled with that of a doctors on the east coast, in Dallas, and in Louisiana who also found the same evidence?

Were these specialists called forward to testify? Were these doctors and researchers funded to continue to document their findings to help us getto answers and treatment?


WE found that many of the DOD/VA doctors that questioned and became involved, were rapidly transferred when they sought to get research started. One of the doctors I saw during a CCEP Evaluation at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center, who had been seeing the gulf war veterans in dermatology and who also had a husband that served with us in the gulf who was experiencing symptoms was not provided information on the ongoing investigations. This black lady physician, a West Point graduate was being kept in the dark and not provided information. When she was supplied information, she was upset and approached the physician in charge of the program and told to not make waves. She was fully qualified but could not sign the patients out of the clinic. Instead, a senior ranking Dermatologist was called who would not investigate but simply wrote rashes off as eczema and typical of age despite what ever age of the veteran.

How can we the veterans expect objective work to be done? When we seek care we feel that we are being screened out. The Gulf War veterans that have presented themselves to the VA for care have been subjected to means testing, third party billing of any insurance , or in the latest examples we have heard this week that a payment of a co-charge of $50.00 was required to receive care. These actions that have been reported continuously, throughout the nation have been dealt with as we are notified. But the point remains these action are not in accordance either with the sense of Congress or the laws enacted since the gulf war. It has been at least 7 years since this issue has arisen and we would most certainly expect that the VA Hospitals across the nation would now have received training and guidance and directives. This in facts leads the Gulf War veterans to leave the VA system and suffer in silence. This leaves the VA with failing to provide care, interfering with the collection of accurate objective findings to base research hypotheses.

The veterans that have symptoms that flare and then resolve repeatedly cannot even get an appointment to get these documented when they are occurring, appointments if you are lucky are two months later. Complaints of vision problems and dental problems that are significant are not even evaluated because you have to have 100% disability to get in to those clinics. The area of research on visual problems, hearing problems, and dental problems have not even been addressed. A Dentist at the VA in Denver was very helpful because his brother had been an Agent Orange Veteran and he had been one of the dentist activated to send troops out and then receive them back to home base. He knew the state of dental health for the troops. When he saw the veterans within 5 years having significant dental problems he knew and was able to identify that something more was involved. He knew the Veterans in Denver were showing up with borderline low RBCs and that this signaled that something had occurred. He also saw many fillings crumble after a short period of time, gum problems that related to a change of circulation and immunological problems, teeth that chipped easily and teeth that were abnormally loose. But yet I have yet to see a reporting in a dentistry journal on this problem or an opthamology journal reporting of the visual findings.

The abnormal acoustical testing my ears was found by an audiologist contracted to do CCEP evaluations. I myself had to go back for the same test twice. When I asked why. He said off the record that what he was seeing was ototoxicity. He wondered why, until I showed him Senator Reigle's Committee Report from 1994. He got interested and wanted to do some further research but he was blocked. Again no journal reporting of these problems. And not only that but I could not get him to put his thoughts and clinical diagnosis down in my record.

Our spinal x-rays are showing curvature and we are told we have scolosis, but yet prior to the war this was not there. X-rays are showing early disc problems, degeneration, hip problems, decalcification, and knee problems but I have yet to see a research article or journal article addressing these findings.

We get reports of early cardiac deaths, pacemakers in young previously healthy individuals and in groups of individuals ( a tank battalion in Boiser City, La). Again no medical journal articles to share information between physicians. We have had reports of loss of kidneys, or renal stones, and GI and esophageal problems but again no documentation and no journal articles. We have had 2 spleenic ruptures that I know of are there more? WE have no running database for these problems (or for cancer) that have been open to veterans and researchers. These databases exist at the VA but again the data is not published or available. We have no running database of deaths by name and state so that surviving family members can check to see if their kin is identified. The data is not open to a check and balance system or for independent doctors or researcher review. We have no database that shows the multiple diagnoses and yet to be resolved undiagnosed symptoms for each individual veteran openly available that would demonstrate the complex deterioration of health on these veterans. There is no medical database linked up or cross checked to geographic location in theater.

Reproductive disorders that appear to be high example: increased numbers of early hysterectomies due to bleeding probably related to endocrine disruptors that we were exposed in theater have not been tabulated for the total female veteran population. Problems with loss of sensation and abilities(impotence in male and female veterans) have not even been considered.

Where this leads us, is to call for those steps mentioned previously call forward the Army Preventive medicine team that served in theater with the protection of law in order to reveal all information possible on exposures.

  1. An independent agency to take over the databases and have them accessible to veterans, doctors, and researchers that will take on the job of statistical research and correlation to in theater location and causative agents.
  2. A call for an investigation into the retaliation on the people that have come forward to share information.
  3. A call for a GAO survey of doctors within the military and the VA to seek their insights independently.
  4. A call for an investigation into the review process for research proposal granting.
  5. An independent review of those research proposals that were turned down and the letters of denial of funding.
  6. A call to bring forward the individuals that participate in any fraudulent research grant review processes and any physicians that willfully obstructed the process of getting answers for Gulf War veterans.
  7. A call for an independent agency or a combination of an independent agency with another federal government agency with no ties to the DOD and specific instructions to research the truth objectively regardless of politics or other concerns.(geographically dispersed throughout the nation centers)
  8. A call for funding of vouchers for Gulf War veterans so that we can seek care, testing, and treatment by doctors that step forward - with adequate protection afforded to the doctors so that they do not suffer retaliation of any kind.(include funding to doctors and researchers that have already stepped forward to continue care and expand research for treatment)
  9. An increase effort to find other patriots like Ross Perot that care and will step up to the plate with financial assistance in several medical centers across the nation geographically to kick start and fast track the research and care that Gulf War veterans have earned by putting their lives on the line for the country.