Last updated: April 24. 2014 9:09AM - 802 Views
Thomas Crisp Contributing Columnist

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Gulf War veterans should have presumptive conditions associated with their service, including brain and lung cancer and chronic migraines, members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs wrote in a letter March 18.

“As a veteran of the Persian Gulf war, I am keenly aware of issues adversely impacting the health of veterans who served in that theater beginning in 1990,” wrote Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) in a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

If a veteran is diagnosed with a presumptive condition, Veterans Affairs is required to assume that it is military-connected, and that the veteran is then entitled to medical or disability benefits associated with the diagnosis. Coffman writes that research has connected brain cancer to the Sarin gas that troops were exposed to when the U.S. Air Force bombed a chemical factory in Khamisiyah, Iraq.

Gulf War veterans have been found to have a higher percentage of lung cancer, and migraines are more likely in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, he wrote. If VA decides not to make the conditions presumptive, Coffman wrote, they should explain why.

Ron Brown, president of the National Gulf War Resource Center, said he had worked with other veterans’ organizations, including the American Legion, to try to get the presumptive conditions approved by VA.

“This legislation is long overdue with the science and research that has been done to show these conditions warrant being presumptive for Desert Storm service,” Brown said.

Gulf War veterans already have presumptive status for chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, and undiagnosed illnesses that include weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, headache, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, skin conditions, respiratory disorders and sleep disturbances, according to VA.

This is a laughing matter — but a medical situation that’s the farthest thing from funny for afflicted ex-troops. In a survey of more than 700 veterans who showed signs of traumatic brain injury, 60 percent said they struggle with a little-known, neurological condition that causes them to lapse into uncontrolled fits of laughter or crying, according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs survey released 19 MAR. Called pseudobulbar affect (PBA), the condition occurs in some 2 million Americans who have had strokes, brain injuries or been diagnosed with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases.But the surprisingly high portion of veterans who revealed they, too, experience unwanted bouts of giggles or tears may mean that hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are grappling with the stigmatizing malady, said a VA brain expert.

“That’s probably very accurate,” said Regina McGlinchey, director of the VA’s Translational Research Center for Traumatic Brain Injury and Stress Disorders, based in Boston. She will present the findings Friday at the Tenth World Congress on Brain Injury, in San Francisco.

More than 2 million U.S. troops served in the two wars. Between 12 and 23 percent of those men and women sustained TBIs, the VA estimates. “The data suggests over half of these people are having symptoms of PBA. And it really exacerbates their problem with reintegration (into society) and may facilitate greater isolation,” McGlinchey said. “These are veterans and service members who are very proud, very confident, and they’re not going to be out in social situations and not be in control of their emotions. That’s one thing I am extremely concerned about.”

Crying jags seem slightly more common than laughing spells. Some people endure both. The frequency and length of the outbursts vary among individuals, McGlinchey said. The VA study was sponsored by Avanir Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which markets Nuedexta, a drug specifically approved to treat PBA.

There are no known triggers for the emotional eruptions, which often run opposite to what a person is feeling internally, McGlinchey said. That’s one of the most fascinating but also debilitating aspects of PBA because, really, what you’re looking at is a disassociation between someone’s emotional experience in the moment and what their emotional expression is,” she said. “These acts of laughing or crying are completely uncontrollable. They can just happen.”

Social Security claims from veterans with a Veterans Affairs Department disability compensation rating of 100 percent permanent and total have a new process that will treat their applications as high priority and issue expedited decisions. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting Social Security commissioner, said the new process is similar to the way the agency currently handles disability claims from wounded warriors.

“We have reached another milestone for those who have sacrificed so much for our country and this process ensures they will get the benefits they need quickly,” Colvin said. “While we can never fully repay them for their sacrifices, we can be sure we provide them with the quality of service that they deserve. This initiative is truly a lifeline for those who need it most.”

To receive the expedited service, veterans must tell Social Security they have a VA disability compensation rating of 100 percent permanent and total and must show proof of their disability rating with their VA notification letter. The VA rating only expedites Social Security disability claims processing and does not guarantee an approval for Social Security disability benefits, officials emphasized, noting that these veterans still must meet the strict eligibility requirements for a disability allowance.

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