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Hon. Harry E. Mitchell, Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Thank you to everyone for attending today’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing entitled, Gulf War Illness:  The Future for Dissatisfied Veterans. 

Last year, this Subcommittee held two hearings on Gulf War Illness.  Our first hearing gave us an overview of purpose, research and the methodology that the VA utilized to determine the parameters relating to Gulf War Illness.  Our second hearing evaluated the scientific information and analyzed the different schools of thought on Gulf War Illness research. In both these hearings, it has become clear that veterans are suffering from symptoms related to service in the Gulf, and that they are continuing to struggle for the healthcare, treatment and benefits they deserve.  Our third and hopefully final hearing today, we will hear from the Department how they plan to move ahead and implement the culture, care, benefits, research, outreach, and education efforts for our Gulf War Veterans. 

Next month will mark the 20th Anniversary since the United States deployed almost 700,000 troops to the Persian Gulf.  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.  

Under the new leadership of Secretary Shinseki, a new vision and a new mission has been created at the Department, and I know that Members on both sides of the aisle are eager to see how the VA will use this new vision to ensure that our veterans are receiving the best possible  care.  As part of this new vision, Secretary Shinseki’s creation of the Gulf War Veterans Illness Task Force in 2009 is bold and shows the Department’s dedication to our Gulf War Veterans.  However, with this new Task Force we need to begin to see results. Even though the VA has put forward motions to better serve our veterans, it is not a substitute for results.  We all understand the arduous task of ensuring that the proper research and data is collected, but our veterans have waited too long.  While I appreciate the VA’s attempts to change the culture at the Department regarding Gulf War Illness, there must also be strides to change the care and compensation these veterans have waited so long for.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is the second largest agency in our system of government and they must be held accountable for the timely care of our nation’s veterans.  It is a culture of complacency that doesn’t serve anyone, especially our men and women in the armed forces.  VA needs to take actions to begin to implement a plan to provide transparency and answers to our Gulf War Veterans, and without a unified central VA effort to provide appropriate care to this population, these veterans and their families will have to wait that much longer and grow that much sicker.

I trust that this hearing will begin to lay out a unified plan for the care of our Gulf War veterans, as well as instill hope that these veterans are not forgotten and that the promises we made to care for them are kept.