Thursday, May 23, 2013

VA Accused of Hiding Veteran Health Data

Jim Fausone
Veteran Advocate
A scientist is alleging that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is hiding data.

According to a scientist for the VA, the agency’s Office of Public Health has been hiding research which indicated that vets have been affected by exposure to toxins since the Persian Gulf War.

Steven Coughlin quit working at the VA in late 2012 due to what he called “serious ethical concerns.” He testified to the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that the VA's public health office is invested in hiding evidence of illnesses attributed to the Gulf War. Evidence that has been released, alleges Coughlin, has been recalibrated to look "unintelligible.” He also said that his office did not release their findings as part of a study which cost as much as $10 million and which found exposure to oil well fires, pesticides and other toxins for as many as 60,000 Iraq and Afghan war veterans.

Coughlin also stated that a study which was congressionally mandated regarding Gulf War vets and family was not released, and alleges that he was told the results of the study were "permanently lost.” He said that research which points to Gulf War illnesses as neurological was unlikely to be released, and that one of his supervisors threatened to retaliate against Coughlin when he did not want to intentionally leave out data.

The chief of the VA’s public health and environmental hazards office, Victoria Davey, has stated that her office maintains strict analysis and publishing guidelines, but she did not address directly the allegations made by Coughlin. The VA has issued a statement that the VA Office of Research Oversight will be reviewing the claims put forth by Coughlin, and that they took every opportunity to seriously and fully pursue allegations of malfeasance.

Coughlin's claim includes allegations that he was told to not examine data on the number and type of medical visits and hospitalizations as part of his research on burn pits and health issues among troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq and Afghanistan war vets reported a number of debilitating respiratory issues many believe may be the result of inhaling trash burn pit smoke located in combat zones. Coughlin stated that he was threatened after informing his supervisor that he would not continue his research project with redacted information.

Gulf War vets returned to the States after 1991, and have reported numerous medical issues. While the VA has recognized some medical issues as the result of Gulf War service, many vets have been told their medical issues are psychologically based.  The VA formally recognized nine illnesses resulting from Gulf War service in 2010.

The VA has spent an estimated $120 million on research since 2002 to determine the origins of Gulf War illnesses, but some researchers allege that a portion of the funds never made it to back the research. They also allege that ten million dollars from the fund went to the “Gulf War Biorepository Trust,” a brain bank for vets with ALS. But of the 60 brains in the bank, all but one was from older vets, not ones who served in the Gulf War.


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