VA Fudges Vets' Health Data to Duck Costs

Former staffer says VA seeks to avoid expensive care
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2013 12:03 PM CDT
VA Fudges Vets' Health Data to Duck Costs
Soldiers prepare for an internal patrol Friday, Dec. 16, 2011 near Nasiriyah, Iraq.   (AP Photo/Mario Tama, Pool)

The Department of Veterans Affairs keeps some health data quiet to avoid the financial burden of expensive care, according to a former VA staffer set to testify today before a House subcommittee. If "studies produce results that do not support the office of public health's unwritten policy, they do not release them," says Steve Coughlin, a former epidemiologist with the department, in planned testimony. "On the rare occasions when embarrassing study results are released, data are manipulated to make them unintelligible."

Coughlin cites data related to "burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, and toxic exposures in the Gulf War," USA Today reports. Research that would back claims of Gulf War illness is frequently hidden, he says. A 2010 study in which Coughlin was involved went unpublished; it tied burn pit exposure to respiratory ailments. Officials rejected Coughlin's request to see subjects' medical records. And last year, an investigation of Gulf War illness was weighted toward experts who say the illness is psychological, not neurological. "There are staff within VA who are working against Gulf War veterans," says a vet appointed to a congressional panel on the issue. (More Department of Veterans Affairs stories.)

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