- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1961 and went to Parris Island in June 1962. I came out of boot camp in December of that year and served eight years in the Reserves (five years active, three years inactive). Am I eligible for any benefits? I am 66 years old and retired. — Thank you, Harry J.

Dear Harry,

Sources tell me that you are not entitled to any benefits from the Department of Defense. If you have any disabilities, you can apply to VA for disability compensation or health care benefits. It won’t be easy after more than 40 years, but it’s possible to prove if sufficient documentation can be assembled.

Shaft notes

Subcommittee Chairman Harry Mitchell, Arizona Democrat, recently conducted the third of a series of hearings focused on Gulf War Illness:

The final in the series was intended to gauge the outlook going forward for veterans suffering from GWI, specifically examining how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers healthcare and benefits to this group of veterans. The first hearing focused on Vietnam-era veterans and their struggle for healthcare and benefits for service-related maladies, often related to Agent Orange. The second thoroughly reviewed the existing scientific evidence related to GWI. Both hearings found that veterans are suffering from acute and chronic symptoms attributed to their military service and experience barriers to care and services from the VA.

“[August] will mark the 20th anniversary since the United States deployed almost 700,000 troops to the Persian Gulf,” said Chairman Mitchell. “With a growing number of these veterans developing undiagnosed and multi-symptom illnesses, they have looked to the people who promised them the care worthy of their sacrifices when they returned home.  Still to this day, many of our Gulf War Veterans have yet to see this care and are finding themselves fighting the VA for service connected compensation.”

An Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans was established by Secretary Peake in April 2008 and the committee submitted a report on September 29, 2009. Advisory Committee Chairman Charles Cragin discussed the findings of the Advisory Committee Report which specifically analyzed access issues for veterans suffering from GWI, difficulty in diagnosing GWI, and the lack of data on Gulf War veterans. He said:

“In general, the Committee’s findings are summed up in the title of its report: Changing the Culture: Placing Care Before Process. This was a resounding theme, pockets of people trying to do their best, stymied by process or lack of vital information. Many of those who came to VA in the early days after Gulf War I were turned away. In many cases, health care professionals were not able to connect the symptoms experienced by these Veterans to defined or known illnesses. Consequently, Veterans were not able to access medical care and treatment and their claims for service-connected disabilities were often denied. The process served as an impeding wall preventing Veterans who were hurting from getting over the wall to take advantage of the care they needed and deserved. Consider for a moment that all of the fine men and women were considered in excellent health and “deployable” when they went to war. In many instances, shortly after their return home, these Veterans began complaining of feeling ill and seeking help. Many were turned away as ‘malingerers’ or having a ‘psychosomatic illness.’ Why did a department of government designed to care for Veterans not identify that something was happening to men and women who had recently been healthy who now were sick, the common denominator being that they had deployed in Gulf War I?”

In August 2009, Secretary Shinseki called for a comprehensive review of the VA’s approach in meeting the needs of Gulf War Veterans and established a Gulf War Task Force chaired by VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich. On March 29, 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs released its final draft of the Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Task Force Report, which identified seven areas where the VA can improve. The intended outcome of the task force is a set of action plans to ensure the needs of Gulf War veterans are met and improve their level of satisfaction with VA services. In his testimony, Mr. Gingrich assured Subcommittee Members that the recommendations of the Advisory Committee Report would be incorporated into the efforts of the task force.

Bob Filner (D-CA), Chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said, “We hear from veterans and it is evident from this hearing that significant issues remain with the culture at the VA regarding Gulf War veterans.

• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax: 301/622-3330; call: 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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