A former Veterans Affairs researcher testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs this week about the organization’s efforts to minimize research that supports claims of Gulf War Illness and illness from burn pit exposure.
Steven Coughlin was an epidemiologist in the VA’s public health department until he resigned over a request to retract his claims concerning the concealed information and admit he had made a mistake. Coughlin also said “if the studies produce results that do not support the office of public health’s unwritten policy, they do not release them. “ He also testified about a panel of outside experts hired to study neurological connections to Gulf War illness for the Institute of Medicine. Coughlin maintains the panel was stacked in favor of those who believe Gulf War illness is psychological rather than neurological. Coughlin added “anything that supports the position that Gulf War illness is a neurological condition is unlikely to ever be published.”
Coughlin’s allegations were countered by Victoria Davey, chief officer of VA’s office of public health and environmental hazards. Davey never directly addressed the accusations levied against the VA but talked about the “cutting-edge” research the VA has conducted.
Coughlin was backed by Lea Steele, a researcher at the Veterans Health Research Program at Baylor University who said the VA has not managed an effective program. Steele echoed Coughlin when she said “studies consistently show Gulf War illness is not due to war trauma.”
Steele referenced the panel Coughlin viewed as stacked in favor of Gulf War illness as a psychological illness. The panel studied veterans from the past 20 years rather than a segment of Gulf War veterans. The symptoms of this broad group were lumped together so that neither cause nor treatment for “chronic multisymptom illness” could be found. Steele likened this to “medical malpractice”.
A Gulf War veteran and appointed member of the Congressionally Directed Gulf War Illness Research Medical Program, Anthony Hardie, stated the testimony confirms what veterans have said for years and “there are staff within VA who are working against Gulf War veterans”.
Coughlin touched on a study of more than 2,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who admitted they had considered suicide during the previous two weeks. Nobody from the VA reached out to them.
Coughlin’s complaints were met with no action leading him to tenure his resignation saying continuing to work for the VA was “against my conscience.”