WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud led a bipartisan letter sent today to Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald, calling on the Secretary to strengthen a committee tasked with researching illnesses many Gulf War veterans experience. The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses was created by Congress in 1998, and is tasked with making recommendations to the VA Secretary about health problems associated with service during the Persian Gulf War. VA has dramatically curtailed the independence of the committee, impacting its ability to assess the effectiveness of research that could help Gulf War vets.
Michaud, who serves as Ranking Member on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, was joined by members of both parties in the letter to McDonald, including: Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), and Phil Roe (R-TN).
"There is still more we need to learn about Gulf War Illness and how we can effectively treat it. Our men and women who served in the Persian Gulf and are now struggling with health consequences as a result of their service deserve the best treatment possible -- and that means thoroughly examining all of the research out there," said Michaud. "I'm disappointed that VA has restricted the ability of the committee tasked with evaluating this research to function effectively -- our veterans deserve better. As Secretary McDonald settles in, I hope he takes this opportunity to restore the committee to its original stature."
In the letter, Michaud and his fellow lawmakers wrote:
"It has been of great concern to us that VA's reaction to reports of the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses, detailing VA staff manipulation of Gulf War research to mischaracterize the health problems of these veterans, has been to eliminate the independence of the Committee, replacing its members and eliminating its authority to assess the effectiveness of VA's research program.
"....We believe that the committee can be of great value to you in assessing VA's Gulf War policies. It is a time to be welcoming independent outside experts on VA's activities, not eliminating them."
The full letter is available online here.
Michaud was an original co-sponsor of H.R. 4261, which passed the House in May and strengthened the independence of the committee. That bill is currently before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
And in June, the House passed a defense appropriations bill that included $20 million for continued funding of the Gulf War Illness Research Program. Michaud led efforts to ensure the funding for the program. He worked across the aisle with Rep. Roe (R-TN) in sending a letter with nearly 70 bipartisan Members of Congress expressing support for the continuation of the program.