: The VA’s Gulf War Veterans Illness Task Force (GWVITF) is a leading edge of Secretary Shinseki’s vision of transforming the VA into a 21st century organization. It represents a bold step forward in how VA considers and addresses the challenges facing not just Veterans of a specific era, but the challenges facing all Veterans. The GWVITF was formed in AUG 09 to provide a unified and cohesive organizational instrument to address the concerns and needs of Gulf War Veterans, especially those who suffer from unexplained chronic multisystem, or undiagnosed illnesses. From the outset, the VA recognized that this was a complex issue with many people deeply invested in its resolution. They also recognized the frustrations that many Veterans and their families experience on a daily basis as they look for answers, and seek benefits. The Task Force is charged with conducting a comprehensive review of all VA programs and services that serve the Gulf War cohort of Veterans. It is further charged to identify gaps in services as well as opportunities to better serve this Veteran cohort, and then develop results oriented recommendations to decisively advance VA’s efforts to address their needs.
In order to accomplish these goals, the Task Force is designed as a matrix organization within VA that meets regularly to investigate allegations and perceptions, analyze facts and data, coordinate and review findings and proposals, and collaboratively develop recommendations. The Task Force includes staff from the Office of the Secretary (OSVA), Veterans Heath Administration (VHA), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs (OPIA), Office of Policy and Planning (OPP), and the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs (OCLA). The staff from these offices represent a broad spectrum of subject matter expertise and stakeholder perspectives necessary to ensure success. Members are charged with defining the key areas of review, consulting key experts and relevant stakeholders, and capturing the issues, data, programmatic and performance information necessary to inform their recommendations. [Source: http://www.va.gov/Gulf_War_Background_Brief.pdf Apr 2010 ++]
The VA Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Task Force (GWVITF) has completed the final draft of a comprehensive report that will redefine how the VA addresses the concerns of veterans who deployed during the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991. Notification of the draft written report was published in the Federal Register, and the draft written report identifies seven areas where VA will improve services for this group of veterans. Among these improvements, VA will reconnect with veterans from the 1990–1991 Gulf War, strengthen the training of clinicians and claims processors, and reenergize its research effort. VA will also proactively strengthen partnerships and medical surveillance to address the potential health impacts on veterans from the environmental exposures on today’s battlefields. The mission of VA’s Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Task Force is to identify both gaps in services as well as opportunities to better serve veterans of the Gulf War. Of the almost 700,000 service members who deployed to Operation Desert Shield in 1990 and Operation Desert Storm in 1991, more than 300,000 have filed disability claims and over 85% have been granted service connection for at least one condition.
VA’s GWVITF recommendations build on the findings of The Gulf War Veterans Illnesses Advisory Committee, VA Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses, the interagency Deployment Health Working Group, and other related sources. Some of the Task Force’s recommendations include:
• Improve data sharing with Department of Defense to notify veterans of potential exposures, monitor their long-term health and inform them about decisions regarding additional follow up.
• Improve the delivery of benefits to veterans with Gulf War-related disabilities by: Reviewing and, if necessary, updating regulations affecting Gulf War veterans.
• Expanding training for VBA examiners on how to administer disability claims with multiple known toxin exposure incidents.
• Improve VA healthcare for veterans through a new model of interdisciplinary health education and training.
• Increase number of long-term, veteran-focused studies of veterans to enhance the quality of care VA provides.
• Transition from reactive to proactive medical surveillance to help better manage veterans’ potential hazardous exposures.
• Find new treatments for Gulf War veterans through new research.
• Enhance outreach to provide information and guidance to veterans about benefits and services available to them for injuries/illnesses associated with Gulf War service.
As a first step, VA is seeking public comments on the draft written report before final publication. The public notice will be posted at Government Regulations website http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#home , and the draft written report will be open for comment for thirty (30) days. To view the29 MAR 2010 final draft report without making recommendations, refer to http://www1.va.gov/opa/vadocs/gwvi_draft_report.pdf. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update 2 Apr 2010 ++]