Zachary Hearn, who is the deputy director of claims for The American Legion’s National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, had testified on the VA's processing of Gulf War Illness claims during a joint hearing that took place on Capitol Hill on the 13th of July.
Hearn said that the Gulf War Illness claims are very complicated. Many veterans are forced to tread on murky waters so that they can access service connection for many Gulf War-related, undiagnosed illnesses. While the undiagnosed illness is what exactly sounds – a collection of symptoms which cannot be medically explained and defined. Veterans who often seek treatment for these symptoms, have to undergo treatment for many years, and will probably have multiple diagnoses before the VA acknowledge that the symptoms are very related to the undiagnosed illness. This whole scenario is very frustrating for veterans and was confirmed by a recent (U.S. Government Accountability Office) GAO report. The VA department on the other hand has overwhelmingly denied the allegations.
Although the VA had previously acknowledged the continuous frustration associated with the Gulf War Illness, Hearn noted that the recent GAO report showed that only about 10 percent of VA’s medical examiners had successfully completed an optional course which is related to the Gulf War Illness. The many examinations are currently being done by the private-sector contractors. It’s a great concern if the VA has not been providing mandatory training to its staff regarding Gulf War Illness, then what are the requirements, which are being used to gauge the effectiveness of the contracted examiners?
Currently the American Legion has more than 3,000 accredited service officers who are located throughout the nation. Hearn praised the dedicated individuals and described them as the lifeblood for staff in Washington. The service officers provide necessary feedback regarding issues our veterans face regularly.
The recently released GAO report and the findings made by the Legion’s findings, paint what can be described as a bleak picture of the development and adjudication of Gulf War-related claims. According to Hearn most of the medical providers are given optional training, out of the total number only 10 percent do participate. Apart from that the Veterans Benefits Administration personnel have been complaining over the years of lack of enough training on the Gulf War Illness.
Hearn noted that indeed it’s very clear that it’s very crucial for improvements to be made ASAP. He also said that the American Legion is more than willing and ready to help the VA department in working toward achieving these goals.