Veterans Hotline and Internet Services
Outreach programs to veterans have improved tremendously based on VAs experience with Gulf War veterans. In early 1995, VA established the Gulf War Information Center and Helpline (1-800-PGW-VETS), which has received over 400,000 calls. This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Callers can obtain information about medical care, the Gulf War Registry examination, medical research involving exposure to environmental hazards, and disability and compensation benefits for Gulf War illnesses. VA also developed an Internet site (www.va.gov/health/environ/persgulf.htm) on Gulf War veterans health issues, including a "Frequently-Asked-Questions" section, a section entitled "Where to Get Help," and the periodic issues of VA Gulf War newsletters.
OSAGWI also developed and implemented an outreach program to respond to the concerns of Gulf War veterans, service members, and their families. The program had its inception with a toll-free hotline (1-800-497-6261) set up by PGIIT in 1995. This hotline provides OSAGWI with the means to receive and respond to calls for assistance; the ability to alert thousands of veterans to services available to them; and a way to contact additional witnesses for investigative initiatives. OSAGWI has communicated directly with more than 16,000 veterans since 1996. GulfLINK (www.gulflink.health.mil), the Special Assistants award-winning Internet home page has been the single place that all DoD documents relating to Gulf War illnesses can be found. Typically, GulfLINK gets over 60,000 home page "hits" in any given week, but peaked at over ninety thousand hits per week when the initial Khamisiyah demolition analysis was published. In May 1998, Government Executive magazine selected GulfLINK as one of the "Best Feds on the Web," an achievement noted by Vice President Gore.
Gulf War Publications
VA publishes a variety of newsletters and brochures on Gulf-related issues, including the quarterly Gulf War Review. The newsletter provides information to Gulf War veterans and their families about Gulf War health and compensation issues and VA-sponsored research. The newsletter is sent to more than 200,000 Gulf War veterans, with more than 400,000 copies printed. Copies of the Review can be obtained through the Persian Gulf Registry Coordinator at the nearest VA medical center, or the Environmental Agents Service (131), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20420. It is also available on VAs web site. Special mailings are sent to participants in the VA Registry when needed. Several years ago, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs sent letters notifying veterans that VA would review disability compensation claims previously filed by veterans who believed they were exposed to environmental hazards while serving in the Persian Gulf. The letter encouraged veterans who had not filed claims to do so if they thought they might be entitled to benefits.
VA also produces a two-page fact sheet A Report to Veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs, Gulf War Research that describes the Federal Governments commitment and activities regarding Gulf War-related research efforts. It explains the mission and efforts of VA Environmental Hazards Research Centers, VAs large-scale epidemiological studies, new VA research efforts, the role of the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, and major research findings. The booklet Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents, updated annually by VA includes sections on benefits and services for Gulf War veterans. The booklet is among the most popular sold by the U.S. Government Printing Office.
Additional publications produced by OSAGWI help fulfill their pledge to share all information from investigations with veterans and the public. This effort is accomplished mainly through GulfNEWS, a bi-monthly newsletter, which is available in both print and electronic forms. This newsletter keeps veterans updated on breaking events within DoD, and presents features on case narratives and information papers. There are nearly 20,000 veterans currently subscribing to the printed version of GulfNEWS.
Town Hall Meetings
VA officials, including former Secretary Jesse Brown and former Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Kenneth Kizer, have actively participated in numerous meetings throughout the nation to share information with Gulf War veterans and their families about VA program initiatives. These meetings are designed to promote direct communication between VA officials (including researchers, policy-makers, and key administrative personnel) and the veterans and their families.
OSAGWI considers the DoD installation visits and town hall meetings among their most important outreach efforts. Starting in March 1997, and working with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, OSAGWI began a series of town hall meetings to update veterans on progress and to hear their concerns first-hand. Since early 1998, the meetings were conducted in concert
with visits to military bases to discuss issues of force health protection. As of November 2000, the program has reached nearly 50,000 veterans, nearly 30,000 other service members, their families, and the general public during the installation visits, visits to metropolitan areas, and other outreach efforts. The Special Assistant established an open-door policy with the media, veterans groups, Congressional staffs, and the PAC. OSAGWI began holding regular meetings with Veterans Service Organizations and Military Service Organizations to address such topics as chemical alarms and reconnaissance vehicles, DU, and medical record-keeping.
Medical Outreach and Issues Directorate (MOI)
The OSAGWI Medical Outreach and Issues Directorate successfully identified nearly 28,000 Gulf War in-patient medical records stored at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. This directorate created a database to assist in retrieving these records for veterans who require copies to file medical claims. OSAGWI staff is copying the database for VA to speed processing of veterans claims. DoD, VA, and the National Archives and Records Administration are cooperating increasingly on issues involving medical record transfer and storage. These steps will provide some solutions to both Gulf War medical record-keeping deficiencies and the Presidents mandate (November, 1997) to create a new force health protection program with a comprehensive, life-long medical record for each military service member.
The MOI also plays a key role in assuring that veterans receive the care they need and deserve. MOI physicians have been a resource for medical information for DoD and VA physicians who are caring for Gulf War veterans. During outreach visits, MOI physicians regularly deliver medical briefings to local health care providers, updating them on the medical and scientific issues important to veterans health.
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