by Steve Robinson – National Gulf War Resource Center
The following is a letter sent by Steve Robinson, Executive Director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, to veterans’ organizations urging their members to write to Congress and the administration so troops returning from Iraq will get comprehensive medical screening.
If you care about veterans, we request that you write to those responsible for soldiers named below. By speaking with “One Voice” we can express the simple request that laws on the books be followed to protect all veterans. This is a simple issue that needs every person who ever cared about veterans to speak now. Gulf War II’s veterans need your support. The NGWRC can be reached at 301-585-4000 ext. 162 or view us on the Web at www.ngwrc.org for further information.
Send your letters to: President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Principi, House Veterans Affairs, Senate Armed Services, Sub-Committee on International Relations. Here is a summary of the issue you may copy or request that the law be followed in your own words.
Public laws (specifically PL 105-85) designed to protect soldiers on the battlefield are being ignored, thereby setting the stage for mystery illnesses to again present themselves after a war with Iraq. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, public- and service-member interest focused on the negative aspects of military health care. The Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Congress recommended Force Health Protection.
Force Health Protection (FHP) encompasses the full spectrum of operational medical concepts that support the Joint Vision 2010 initiative. FHP changes the focus of military medicine from one of casualty care alone to monitoring forces engaged in military operations.
FHP was supposed to be a catalyst for a fundamental reorientation of military medicine. The intent was to broaden the focus from acute-care services and post-casualty intervention to include proactive, preventive services that maintain healthy and fit forces. Additionally, FHP was designed to correct the mistakes of 1991 by collecting baseline data on the health of our forces before, during and after war. These efforts were to provide the platform for future research should any chemical or biological event occur.
Unfortunately, FHP results have been disappointing. These shortfalls demonstrate a lack of willingness to follow the public law and a lack of understanding of the lessons from medical mistakes made more than 12 years ago. Ignoring those lessons will create a whole new round of delays and denials should hostilities include the release of chemical and biological weapons on the battlefield. Some initiatives to decrease risks in military operations have been implemented, others have not. It should be obvious to all that the Department of Defense (DoD) is in violation of the requirements mandated by Chapter 55 of title 10, United States Code, §§ 765, 1074(f), by failing to implement a system of tracking the pre- and post-deployment state of health of service personnel.
Pursuant to these laws, the Secretary of Defense is required to establish a system to assess the medical condition of members of the armed forces (including members of the reserve components) who are deployed outside the United States or its territories or possessions as part of a contingency operation (including a humanitarian operation, peacekeeping operation or similar operation) or combat operation. The system described in 10 U.S.C. § 1074(f) specifically delineates the use of pre-deployment medical examinations and post-deployment medical examinations (including an assessment of mental health and the drawing of blood samples) to accurately record the medical condition of service members before their deployment, as well as any changes in their medical condition during the course of their deployment:
1. That the DoD’s actions with respect to the pre-and post-deployment phases of current military operations are not in compliance with §§ 765 and 1074(f) in that rather than conducting physical and psychiatric examinations to determine the health status of the force before deployment as the law requires, the DOD has distributed health-related questionnaires to the troops.
2. That the DoD has further failed to follow the requirements of §§ 765 and 1074(f) in that it has not drawn blood samples from the entire force prior and subsequent to deployment. Rather, the DoD is instead relying on serum collection for HIV testing. This serum may be anywhere from one to three years old and does not constitute a reliable analysis of the service member’s pre-deployment medical condition.
3. That the DoD has further failed to follow the requirements of §§ 765 and 1074(f) in that the Department is not conducting psychiatric examinations before and after deployment as required by law. Again, the DoD is relying on questionnaires distributed to personnel. Such a health survey is inadequate to the task and does nothing to satisfy the requirements of the law or provide meaningful information.
4. That the DoD has further failed to effectuate the requirements of §§ 765 and 1074(f) in that the DoD has not reported to Congress with respect to the analysis of the administrative implications of establishing and administering the medical tracking system required by § 1074(f), as required by subsection (a). The report was to have been submitted for five fiscal years for the period 1999 to 2004.
Also required, but not submitted, is a separate analysis and specification of the projected costs and operational considerations for each of the following required aspects of the system:
1. Pre-deployment medical examinations.
2. Post-deployment medical examinations.
3. Record keeping.
None of these analyses have been submitted to Congress. The Pentagon has been quoted saying “questionnaires are better than hands-on physicals.”
The Department is again failing to collect the baseline data. Congress must act to protect returning soldiers. Veterans will not be able to meet the burden of proof required by the Department of Veterans Affairs for treatment, compensation and care if DoD is allowed to “interpret” the law. This mistake is precisely what created the controversy surrounding Gulf War illnesses.
Service members are being set up to face another round of delay, denial and obfuscation regarding possible service-connected medical conditions or disabilities related to their participation in a Middle East conflict. This prospect is unacceptable and must be corrected.
The current medical practices of the DoD and its half-hearted implementation of public law is a disaster waiting to happen. There are no excuses for failure this time. These risks were measured, the lessons were discussed, Congress passed laws and DoD ignored them. Please stand up and speak out to insist that the DoD comply with the will of the American people as expressed through PL 105-85.
Public Law 105-85 can be viewed at (http://thomas.loc.gov/) by searching the 105th Congress then searching for H.R. 1119 SECTION (F) Gulf War Illnesses, #765.