KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

The VA Will Reexamine Gulf War Illness Cases; House Probes Impact Of Burn Pits

The Veterans Affairs Administration is planning to take another look at Gulf War Illness Cases, while the House probes the impact of burn pits.

The VA "will re-examine the disability claims of what could be thousands of Gulf War veterans suffering from ailments they blame on their war service, the first step toward potentially compensating them nearly two decades after the war ended," The Associated Press/CBS News reports. "VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the decision is part of a 'fresh, bold look" his department is taking to help veterans who have what's commonly called 'Gulf War illness' and have long felt the government did little to help them. … The changes reflect a significant shift in how the VA may ultimately care for some 700,000 veterans who served in the Gulf War. It also could change how the department handles war-related illness suffered by future veterans, as Shinseki said he wants standards put in place that don't leave veterans waiting decades for answers to what ails them" (2/25).

Meanwhile, "[a]n Institute of Medicine panel this week began its investigation into possible links between illnesses being reported by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and contractors and their exposure to burn pits there," The New York Times reports. On behalf of the VA, "the panel over the next 18 months plans to scour existing data on burn pits and then recommend whether service members should be provided disability benefits. The committee will not conduct any new health surveys as part of the $1 million investigation" (Maron, 2/25).

ProPublica investigates the mental health issues of defense contractors. "While suicide among soldiers has been a focus of Congress and the public, relatively little attention has been paid to the mental health of tens of thousands of civilian contractors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. When they make the news at all, contractors are usually in the middle of scandal, depicted as cowboys, wastrels or worse. … [T]housands of such workers may be suffering from mental trauma, said Paul Brand, the CEO of Mission Critical Psychological Services, a firm that provides counseling to war zone civilians. More than 200,000 civilians work in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the most recent figures" (Miller, 2/26).

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