By Linda Stewart Ball – The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Aug 26, 2009 22:01:26 EDT
DALLAS — Citing persistent compliance and performance deficiencies, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs canceled a $75 million, five-year research contract with a Texas medical center studying illnesses suffered by veterans of the first Gulf War, officials announced Wednesday. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka, a Democrat from Hawaii, has been pushing to end the sole-source contract with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He could not be reached for comment. The VA said research on the illnesses, however, remains a priority. “As part of our commitment to this vital effort, we must make certain that our resources are used to support effective and productive research,” Dr. Gerald M. Cross, VA’s Acting Under Secretary for Health said in a statement. Dr. Robert Haley, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center epidemiologist who has lead the research project, also could not be reached for comment. But a University of Texas Southwestern spokesman called the VA’s “unilateral decision” to cancel the contract surprising and regrettable. “We strongly disagree with the VA’s characterization of the facts related to our Gulf War research contract,” said John Walls, assistant vice president for public affairs at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “We were surprised to learn of their action, especially since we have been working diligently and in good faith with the VA to resolve all areas of disagreement.” The VA listed several reasons for not renewing the contract, including UT Southwestern’s failure to comply with contract terms and conditions.