H.R. 4261, the Gulf War Health Research Reform Act of 2014

H.R. 4261

Gulf War Health Research Reform Act of 2014

Date
May 28, 2014 (113th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Wednesday, May 28, 2014, the House will consider H.R. 4261, the Gulf War Health Research Reform Act of 2014, under suspension of the rules.  H.R. 4261 was introduced on March 14, 2014 by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) and was referred to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Bill Summary

H.R. 4261 makes several changes to the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC).  The bill expressly restores the RAC’s independence from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in carrying out its functions.  H.R. 4261 tasks the RAC with providing to Congress, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other federal agencies involved in research on illnesses in Gulf War veterans, advice on proposed plans and studies.  H.R. 4261 provides guidance the RAC must use in assessing the overall effectiveness of such federal research.  It sets forth how RAC members will be chosen following the bill’s enactment, and creates a transition period to provide stability while phasing out previous RAC members.  The bill requires that RAC meetings be open to the public, that they occur at least two times per year, and that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and other select VA officials attend a certain number of meetings.  Each year, the RAC is required to submit a report summarizing its activities.  Funding for the RAC will be derived from funds appropriated to the VA.  The RAC terminates two years after submitting a report explaining that the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs are carrying out effective research programs relating to illnesses in Gulf War veterans.

H.R. 4261 also contains several provisions relating studies previously ordered by Congress on Gulf War research that have been disregarded by the VA.

Background

The RAC “was created by Congress in 1998, and first appointed by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi in January, 2002.  The mission . . . is to make recommendations to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on government research relating to the health consequences of military service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Persian Gulf War.”[1]

In congressional testimony in March 2014, the Chairman of the RAC explained that the VA continues to ignore evidence establishing the Gulf War Illness as a physical disease associated with service in the Gulf War, which affects an estimated 250,000 veterans.[2]  The Chairman described efforts by the VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) “to reassert discredited fictions from the 1990’s that ‘the same thing happens after every war’ due to psychiatric factors.  Because there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support this position, they have resorted to manipulating research studies and reports to provide apparent support.”[3]  After the RAC expressed concern about these assertions by the VA and DoD, its charter was changed in May of 2013 “to eliminate its charge to assess the effectiveness of government research and that the membership of the committee would be entirely replaced over the next year.”[4]  Although the VA has described the charter change as routine, “[its] clear purpose . . . was to stop the committee from reporting further on VA staff’s efforts to mislead research.”[5]   H.R. 4261 addresses these issues by restoring independence to the RAC, ensuring “independent operation of the committee within VA but not subject to VA authority.”[6]

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[1] Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
[2] Witness Testimony of Mr. James H. Binns, Chairman, Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (Mar. 25, 2014).
[3] Id.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.

Cost

According to preliminary CBO estimates, implementing H.R. 4261 will have discretionary costs of less than $500,000 over the 2014-2019 period.

Additional Information

For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.