N. Gale Reid, USAF, Ret (E-5)
Members of Congress:
My name is N. Gale Reid, Air Force, Retired, E-5. I am a veteran of the Gulf War in 1991. I worked as an aerovac medic assigned to a Mobile Aeromedical Staging Facility (MASF) near Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Our mission was to transport and triage casualties for care to either the nearest surgical facility (Fleet Hospital 5) or back to facilities behind lines, to Europe, or to the US.
I spent nearly 13 years in the military in the Reserve and Guard forces, while simultaneously working Federal Civil Service. I was activated to the Gulf War in 1991. I was in prime condition (healthwise) before my deployment, but soon spiraled downward upon my return. My declining health from exposures in the Gulf War caused me to lose my jobs and my marriage. I was working at a VA facility in my civilian job before my health gave out completely in 1994, after collapsing on the PT field during an annual run in my Reserve unit. I had never failed a PT course nor was ever "out-of-regulation" during my entire career up til that time. I encountered blatant ridicule and attempted reprimand from my own supervisor at the VA where I was working while trying to obtain physical and mental evaluations for my exposures and conditions. Fortunately for me, there were some good folks working there in positions of authority who helped me, but I can tell you first-hand there are some very ignorant and uncaring people working there as well. I'm afraid many (if not, most) of my fellow veterans are still encountering the same bad treatment and inadequate evaluations I did just over ten years ago.
Some can give thanks that there weren't many casualties during the war, but that depends on who you talk to and where they were. Sadly, DoD and the media portrayed it as a small, insignificant war with tolerable losses. It took years for DoD to even admit we were exposed to anything after the bombing of Khamisiyah. Then when it did, they, the CIA, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) played down the effects of environmental toxins and bad vaccines on our soldiers before even researching all the resources available to them (i.e. private research).
The IOM still holds closed-door meetings, accounting to no one what reports they use for their findings used in advising the VA on how to examine and treat veterans who have been exposed to environmental toxins and bad lots of vaccines (mainly anthrax). I find it utterly repulsive that the IOM makes blind decisions regarding the healthcare of Gulf War Veterans based on sanitized information from DoD, then sells their findings online as well: example http://books.nap.edu/catalog/10628.html
I represent just one of thousands of sick Gulf War Veterans who have been forced into physical and financial hardship just trying to prove my conditions were caused by the exposures from the war. I've watched how the VA criteria for service-connection has slowly changed over the years as more conditions have been added and recognized as a result of toxic exposures. Multiple Sclerosis is just one of several more conditions that need expanded research and recognition as a service-connected condition, in light of doctors' inability to "rule it out". Normally, a doctor is required to "rule out" conditions that may be affecting a patient, however, the IOM is ruling out MS and other conditions such as Parkinson's Disease, brain cancer, and heart disease for service-connection in Gulf War Veterans without even considering the research available in the private peer-reviews because DoD has dictated to them and the medical community how to do their own business.
Gulf War Veterans have followed the research and reports of exposures and their effects on troops long before the IOM was asked to do "peer reviews" for these conditions in 1998. Initial reports from the CIA of exposures were questionable at best when the CIA reported they obtained their information from "foreign sources and DoD" in the 1995 Shays Congressional Hearings. As Christopher Shays told the agent from the CIA, 'it was the most unintelligent intelligence report he had ever seen'. Unfortunately, the information in those initial reports were (and still are being) used in recent research because there was no one challenging their data and sources at the time. Information on air particulate matter wasn’t even gathered until FIVE MONTHS AFTER the soldiers were exposed to the smoke from the oil well fires. Since then, the information on those reports regarding the effects of the fires have changed on numerous occasions, with different plots of how the plumes of smoke blanketed the area and the number of troops exposed. (example: http://www.iom.edu/file.asp?id=8896 and http://www.iom.edu/file.asp?id=8893 )
The IOM even admits to having "scant information" on the effects of these exposures on Gulf War Veterans, however the Gulf War and Health Staff refuses to look at the 2004 RAC Report which documents the critical information on exposures needed to consider the effects on the soldiers who were exposed:
"Because scant information exists on actual exposure levels experienced by individual service members -- a critical factor when assessing health effects -- the committee could not draw specific conclusions about Gulf War veterans' chances of developing lung cancer or any other health problems as a result of exposures. No systematic monitoring of air contamination from oil-well fires was conducted in the Persian Gulf region until May 1991, and this monitoring did not measure levels of contamination produced by other combustion sources, such as heaters or engines. Moreover, no data are available that would allow comparisons between levels of exposure to air contaminants during the Gulf War and exposures to similar contaminants in civilian occupational and environmental settings."
It appears to me the IOM will do only what they are "tasked" to do-- no more, no less; and they make no promises as to whether they will do anything else:
"While the committee might have that information as background it is not part of the committee's task."
"The committee might recommend approaches for studies that will provide answers about the health of current Gulf War veterans, as well as for those involved in future deployments."
Someone needs to review their "statement of task" to include something more definitive and productive in its objectives and goals! How about using the information it has from the RAC in achieving a more complete review/study of "deployment-related illnesses among Gulf War veterans that might not be fully appreciated"?
None of these people at IOM have never had to personally navigate the treatment and claims maze, so they have no appreciation of what the impact is on the veterans it serves when facts are ignored, resulting in incomplete and inaccurate evaluations. Perhaps, if they had to be exposed to the toxic environments we were, then to return to a government and medical community for treatment that denied they were exposed to anything, and then merely pointed them in the direction of MHC (Mental Health Clinic), instead of examining them for neurological effects... They MIGHT be more inclined to study the facts a little deeper!
Meanwhile, sick veterans continue to seek help in their care and claims at VAs where healthcare providers know little-to-nothing in how to refer the veteran for thorough examinations of their symptoms and conditions (because of a lack of reviews and reports from IOM) as a result of their exposures, or document their records accurately for smooth claims process. When VA healthcare providers have little guidance in examining and treating Gulf War Veterans, they cannot document records adequately and the veteran has nothing in his/her records to submit for favorable claims awards. When medical records are void of documentation, the veteran is met with certain denial of adequate care and benefits.
Healthcare providers can help veterans only if and when they have been given complete information from those who advise the VA (the IOM). This information must contain ALL data that could lead to a better understanding of the effects of multiple exposures to a toxic environment. If the IOM concedes that it has insufficient information report on its findings of the Gulf War exposures, it can only be seen as irresponsible if the IOM does not ask for and seek more information in its peer reviews. The RAC has handed them the critical information needed in making a more comprehensive and complete review of more recent and accurate information on those exposures and the IOM has chosen to ignore this without even considering the consequences of their actions on the veterans depending on their findings.
Monetary benefits are only half of the concern when it comes to advising the VA with peer reviews that are current, complete, and accurate. More often than not, veterans are evaluated as having PTSD, depression, or other mental disorders when neurological effects of toxic exposures are ignored. This can only be summed up as “malpractice” when more diagnostic testing is indicated and isn’t included in the healthcare protocol to rule out the possibilities of brain damage from environmental exposures.
Although the VA Policy manual for Gulf War Vets is put out by the Environmental Agents Service, few healthcare providers even know the EAS exists! Infact, even though every VA is mandated to have this office and service, I found none existed in Alabama until recent weeks when I asked to have a couple of other of my conditions evaluated by the EAS here in Montgomery.
Because it is easier to treat and diagnose veterans for PTSD and other mental conditions, and because there is little recognized research and reports to guide healthcare providers, the neurological and physiological effects of toxic environmental exposures (to include unsafe vaccines) are neglected, thus jeopardizing Gulf War Veterans' already fragile health conditions.
If anyone is listening and cares, I plead with you to "do the right thing" by the veterans who have served bravely and faithfully when their country called. Quit forcing them into poverty and worsening health because their conditions haven't been thoroughly considered for service-connection or research by the IOM and VA. Expand the research, resources, and care that is desperately needed in order to adequately treat and care for the soldiers who have already served and those now serving in toxic environments.
N. Gale Reid
To see more testimonies: http://www.gulfwarcouncil.com