Attention A T users. To access the menus on this page please perform the following steps. 1. Please switch auto forms mode to off. 2. Hit enter to expand a main menu option (Health, Benefits, etc). 3. To enter and activate the submenu links, hit the down arrow. You will now be able to tab or arrow up or down through the submenu options to access/activate the submenu links.

Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses

Quick Links
Veterans Crisis Line Badge
My healthevet badge

Committee Members and Staff

Cheryl Walker, M.D., Ph.D, Chairman
Cheryl Walker, M.D., Ph.D, Director of the Center for Precision Environmental Health and a professor in the Departments of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Medicine, and Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Cheryl Walker attended the University of Colorado, Boulder majoring in molecular biology. She earned her Ph.D. in molecular biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She then enrolled at Baylor College of Medicine for her medical degree. Upon completion, Dr. Walker joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. In 2009, she joined the faculty at the MD Anderson Cancer Center as the Ruth and Walter Sterling Professor of Carcinogenesis. While serving in this role, she was the co-recipient of a Grand Opportunity grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for a two-year research program. Dr. Walker left MD Anderson in 2011 to become the director of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT), where she was expected to establish a program in translational cancer research. Following this, she was appointed to serve on the Board of Scientific Advisors of the National Cancer Institute and elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As the director, she brought the TAMHSC into the Gulf Coast Consortia for Quantitative Biomedical Sciences and established the Texas Screening Alliance for Cancer Therapeutics. She also founded a Field-to-Clinic initiative in disease prevention at the IBT and oversaw the development of two centers of research excellence. Recognized for her success, Dr. Walker was named a 2015 "Women on the Move" award recipient by Texas Executive Women. Dr. Walker has over 200 publications in the scientific literature and her research on gene-environment interactions and environmental epigenomics has led to new insights into how early-life exposures reprogram the developing epigenome to alter disease susceptibility across the life-course.

Kenneth Ramos, M.D., Ph.D., Vice-Chair
Kenneth Ramos, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Translational Medical Sciences, Alkek Chair of Medical Genetics, Executive Director, Institute of Biosciences and Technology, Associate Vice President for Research and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Health Services at Texas A&M University System. Dr. Kenneth Ramos is an accomplished physician-scientist with designations in the National Academy of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Ramos is a transformational leader recognized throughout the world for his scientific contributions in the areas of genomics and precision medicine and toxicology. With formal training in pharmaceutical sciences, chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology and medicine Dr. Ramos is helping to steer the changing landscape of medicine, biotechnology and healthcare. In this context, he leads several translational, clinical research and educational programs that integrate diverse approaches to elucidate genomic mechanisms of disease and to develop novel therapies for several oncologic, pulmonary, and vascular diseases. Dr. Ramos has provided academic, executive, administrative and scientific leadership in the areas of genetics and genomic medicine and toxicology at various academic institutions and over the course of his career has positively influenced the career of numerous clinicians and scientists engaged in medical, veterinary and pharmaceutical practice. He is deeply committed to initiatives that advance modern technological applications to improve the quality of healthcare and reduce disease burden and health-associated costs. He has published over 500 peer-reviewed manuscripts and abstracts in high-impact journals such as Blood, Cancer Research, Circulation Research, Nature: Genomic Medicine, Molecular Oncology, Nucleic Acids Research, Oncogene, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

James N. Baraniuk, M.D.
Dr. Baraniuk is a board-certified physician and Professor of Rheumatology, Immunology, and Allergy and the Director, Bioassay Core, Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at Georgetown University. He is a National and International leader on Gulf War illness, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia with emphasis on pain and neuropathological dysfunction. His expertise is reflected, in part, by publication of over 170 peer-reviewed manuscripts, solid federal funding and serving as a subject matter expert on several panels including most notably, “Desert Storm after 25 years: Confronting the exposures of modern warfare” that is part of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institute. Dr. Baraniuk has established large clinical research databases and biorepositories using multiple big-data approaches. Together, Dr. Baraniuk’s laboratory and collaborative team are using these tools to dissect clinical phenotypes and pathophysiological mechanisms of chronic fatigue syndrome in Veterans with Gulf War illness.

Ronald Brown 
Mr. Brown is an honorably discharged U.S. Army Gulf War Veteran, having served in the U.S. Army from 1989-1992 in the 82nd Airborne Division. He is an active advocate for Gulf War Veterans’ issues and currently works with Vietnam Veterans of America in Silver Spring, MD as a Toxic Wounds Consultant. He also works with the U.S. Department of Defense, Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) at Ft. Detrick, MD. Some of Mr. Brown’s other Gulf War advocacy includes service as president of the National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC) that specializes in Gulf War Illness claims and working with Veterans to educate and assist them in the claims process. Mr. Brown’s Gulf War Illness experience includes working with senior Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) leadership to address issues Gulf War Veterans face with each agency. He has worked directly with two VA Secretaries, Robert McDonald and Dr. David Shulkin, on adding brain cancer as a presumptive condition for Gulf War Veterans based upon VA’s own research; worked to educate Gulf War Veterans on understanding the evidence and documentation needed to file for VA compensation claims related to their service, and worked directly with VA’s Compensation Service helping to alleviate and prevent any mistakes occurring at the Veterans Benefits Administration regarding Gulf War Veterans claims. He has worked with two different DoD Under Secretaries of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to address chemical weapons exposure during Desert Storm, served as a consumer reviewer on DoD scientific merit peer review panels related to Gulf War Illness, burn pits exposure, and metals toxicology and participated in biweekly meetings with VA’s Office of Public Health to discuss Gulf War research.

Brent L. Casey
Mr. Casey served as a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne Division in the Persian Gulf in 1990-1991. As a Gulf War Veteran, he has spent many years contributing personal experience, diverse perspectives, and expertise to several organizations. Mr. Casey has participated as an invited speaker for several venues, served as a Consumer Reviewer with the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, and sits, or has sat, on the board of directors for Dogs Helping Heroes, the National Gulf War Resource Center, National Desert Storm War Memorial and Student Veterans of America, Chapter 227 at Sullivan University. Mr. Casey graduated summa cum laude from Sullivan University with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Business Management and is continuing his education as a graduate student pursuing a doctoral degree in Strategic Management at Sullivan University.

Richard Gaard, COL (Ret.)
Colonel Gaard is a Veteran of 35 years in the Army Reserve and a graduate of the Command & General Staff College.  Colonel Gaard’s most recent assignment was serving as Deputy Legislative Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. During this time, Colonel Gaard had many experiences working with various Congressional staffs on Veteran issues. Upon retirement from the Pentagon, the Chairman challenged Colonel Gaard to keep advocating for the rights of our Veterans back home—he has been doing just that with many activities! Throughout Colonel Gaard’s military career, he has had various assignments in Japan, Belgium, and Germany besides stateside.  He was chosen one of seven American officers to coordinate the 29 Country Multi-National Peace-Making Exercise at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany.  Colonel Gaard continues to serve West Point Academy as the State Liaison Officer Director of the Iowa Field Force. Colonel Gaard has been an educator/coach for many years with B.A. in Business from Wartburg College, M.A. from University of Northern Iowa, Educational Administration from Truman State University and MBA studies from University of Melbourne, Australia. As Chairman of the Park and Recreation Board in his hometown, he has recently been working with Veterans and city officials to establish a memorial for Veterans in northeast Iowa. Colonel Gaard is truly honored to serve on this committee and to continue working on protecting and helping our Veterans.

Drew A. Helmer, M.D., MS
Dr. Helmer obtained his medical degree at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and his Master of Science in Health Policy and Management at the Columbia University School of Public Health. Dr. Helmer is an expert in deployment-related health concerns, the impact of combat deployment on the health and well-being of military service members. Dr. Helmer serves as Deputy Director of the Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness, and Safety (IQuESt) at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, TX. Previously, he was the Director of the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC) at the VA-New Jersey Health Care System and Associate Professor of Medicine at Rutgers University-New Jersey Medical School. In addition to caring for Veterans and educating providers about post-deployment health, Dr. Helmer studies healthcare utilization and outcomes important to deployed Veterans including chronic pain, exposure concerns, depression and suicidal ideation, mild traumatic brain injury and sexual health concerns. He has published more than 80 peer-reviewed articles and a book for a lay audience on these topics.

Tom Mathers
Mr. Mathers is the co-founder of Allievex Corp. and serves as its President and CEO, and director. Mr. Mathers is also a partner at Pappas Capital, a dedicated life science venture capital firm focused exclusively on investing in the life sciences sector, where he focuses primarily on company formation. From 1988 to 1991, Mr. Mathers served as a captain in the United States Army and was awarded several medals for his services as an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot in the 1990-91 Gulf War. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point earning a B.S. degree in Engineering. Prior to Pappas Capital and Allievex, Mr. Mathers was the President and CEO of CoLucid Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which focused on the development of the drug lasmiditan which is used for the acute treatment of migraines. Prior to CoLucid, he was President and CEO of Peptimmune, Inc.; President and CEO of Cell Based Delivery, Inc.; Vice President and General Manager of Cardion AG and Vice President of Strategic Development at Genzyme Corporation. Mr. Mathers currently serves on the board of directors for the Biotechnology Industry Organization, where he is active in the areas of capital formation, bioethics, intellectual property and regulatory policy. He also serves as a business advisor to the Progeria Research Foundation and the DADA2 Foundation.

Delphine Metcalf-Foster
A U.S. Army Desert Storm/Desert Shield disabled veteran, was elected as National Commander for the more than 1 million-member Disabled American Veterans (DAV) in 2017. The Vallejo, California native’s military career included service with the U.S. Army Reserve, 689th Quartermaster Unit, 6253rd Hospital Unit and 6211th Transportation Unit, Letterman Army Medical Center. She retired from the Army Reserves with the rank of first sergeant and from the Department of Defense as a Quality Assurance Work Leader in 1996. PNC Metcalf-Foster is a life member of DAV, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. She currently serves on the First Serve Military Advisory Council and is a member of the DAV Department of California Claims and Service Committee and Northern California VA Healthcare Advisory Board. PNC Metcalf-Foster also completed a four-year appointment as a member of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans in November 2015. For the last six years, she has also been a member of Congressman Mike Thompson’s Veterans Advisory Committee. Aside from her commitments on the state and national level, PNC Metcalf-Foster holds a Board position with the Solano County Habitat for Humanity and is on the Veterans Advisory Council for Sonoma State University. A graduate of Solano Community College and Sonoma State University, PNC Metcalf-Foster majored in psychology and liberal studies. She currently resides in Vallejo, California, and is the mother of three children, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Sonya L. Smith
Ms. Smith is an honorably discharged Veteran of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, a health care professional and Cabinet Secretary for the New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services where she works closely with the local VA Medical Center and Benefits Office to maintain open communication, collaborate, and problem-solve on the issues and challenges in the New Mexico Veteran community. In the 1990-91 Gulf War she served as a medical technician in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Ms. Smith’s background also includes work at the New Mexico Department of Health as a special projects coordinator, specifically helping guide the efforts of the agency’s COVID-19 testing team. Prior to that, she served as director of compliance and primary care programs at Southwest Care Center in Santa Fe, and before that she worked as the clinical compliance manager at the University of New Mexico Truman Health Services clinic. Ms. Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in health services management from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia.

Elaine Symanski, MSPH, Ph.D.
Dr. Elaine Symanski is a professor at the Center for Precision Environmental Health, as well as in Epidemiology and Population Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. She earned her Master and Doctoral degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a principal investigator on several research projects and serves as the Deputy Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Precision Environmental Health (GC-CPEH). Dr. Symanski’s research focuses on investigations of the independent and interacting effects of exposures to chemical and non-chemical stressors on health, particularly among vulnerable populations. Her background in military toxic exposures includes serving on the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) committees to investigate respiratory health effects of airborne hazard exposures in the Southeast Asia theater of military operations (2019-2020). She was also part of the research team studying potential health effects associated with contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune (2007-2009). Dr. Symanski has published over 50 papers on the health effects of toxic chemical and metal exposures.

Ms. Barbara A. Ward, BSN, MPA 
Ms. Ward is the former Director of the Center for Minority Veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs and current CEO of Ward and Associates, LLC. She is also an Air Force nurse who served during the Vietnam Era. Upon her retirement from federal service in 2018, her 47-year professional career included numerous senior executive level positions in the health care industry, state and federal government. She has worked as an Assistant Hospital Administrator, Vice President of Medical Services, Regional Director of Field Case Management and held several Director positions in state and federal government. As the former Director of the Center for Minority Veterans, she served as an advisor to the VA Secretary on the needs of minority Veterans and was the designated federal officer for the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans. Additionally, Ms. Ward developed successful programs that specifically targeted outreach to over 5 million minority Veterans nationwide to increase utilization of VA benefits. Prior to this position, Ms. Ward served as the Deputy Secretary for Women and Minority Veterans for the State of California. Barbara is an adjunct faculty member at Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California. Barbara obtained her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Tallahassee, Florida and her master’s degree in Public Administration and Health Services Management from Golden Gate University, San Francisco, California.

Jane M. Wasvick, RN, BSN, MSA
Ms. Wasvick received her bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, ND and her master’s degree in Administration in Health Care from Central Michigan University offered at the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Ms. Wasvick has over 46 years of nursing experience in a variety of healthcare settings and levels of responsibility. Starting in Grand Forks as a surgical nurse, later advancing to the position of Development Director where she was responsible for coordinating building projects as part of the Flood Emergency and Recovery. Her further experience includes eight years as Administrative Director for Patient Services and Quality Improvement in a rural Minnesota hospital, where in order to provide services to the patients, it was necessary to develop new services, to collaborate with larger organizations, and to partner with physicians. She was responsible for developing and reviewing policies, financial management, human resources and quality improvement. During this time, she became a member of the Minnesota Organization for Leaders in Nursing (MOLN) and led the Professional Development Committee for MOLN organizing educational seminars for nurse leaders and sharing best practices with nurse leaders in the region and state. Ms. Wasvick also served as Vice President for Patient Care and Quality in a Critical Access Hospital, Nursing Home, and Rural Health Clinic in North Dakota where she negotiated contracts with larger hospitals to provide services including telehealth and therapy services. Most recently, she retired from a position as surveyor with The Joint Commission, an accreditation body for health care organizations, where she worked extensively with the Veterans Affairs (VA) Health System serving as a VA Team Leader and on special projects. While in this position, Ms. Wasvick was impressed by the VA leadership and staff, and the variety of services offered within the VA system as well as the quality of care offered. She felt it was an honor to work with the Veterans and the many people who assist them in so many ways. Since retirement, she is active in her church providing the music for services, plays in several community bands and works with her Relay for Life Team to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

William “Bill” A. Watts, 1990-91 Gulf War Veteran
Mr. Watts is a decorated Gulf War Combat Veteran who deployed with the 4th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division, during the 1990-1991 Gulf War and liberation of Kuwait. He holds many distinguished awards including the Florida Senate Veterans Champion Award and was honored by Congress with the Congressional Veterans Commendation Award. Mr. Watts continues to serve his Gulf War community locally and nationally through his leadership volunteer roles on the local Senate Veterans Committee; is a founding member of Vet Info, a non-profit group which provides information, advocacy, and education for Veterans of all eras and conflicts. Using his knowledge of fishing, Mr. Watts helps Veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other disabilities by using piscatorial (fishing) therapy, an evidence-based research trial to support Gulf War Veterans with illnesses, and Gulf War Veteran-subject matter expert reviewer for the DoD Gulf War illness research program (GWIRP). Mr. Watts was appointed by the Mayor and Council of Doral, FL, to serve on the Doral Military Advisory Committee and is recognized by Miami-Dade County and the City of Doral Florida, where he currently lives, for his work with Veterans. In honor of his continued dedication to supporting his fellow Veterans, the city commissioners of the City of Fort Lauderdale, FL proclaimed Saturday, June 11, 2022, as William “Bill” Watts Day.

James N. Woody, M.D., Ph.D. 
Dr. James Woody is currently a General Partner at Latterell Venture Partners, a biotechnology venture capital firm in the San Francisco area. He brings more than 25 years of pharmaceutical research and management experience to LVP. Dr. Woody is also currently chairman of Viracta Therapeutics, a company focusing on unique therapies for virally induced cancers. He was founding CEO of Oncomed Pharmaceuticals. He was formerly President and General Manager of Roche Bioscience (former Syntex) in Palo Alto, California, where he had responsibility for all bioscience research and development, ranging from genetics and genomics to clinical development of numerous new pharmaceuticals. Previously, he served as Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Vice President of Research and Development for Centocor, where he was responsible for the discovery and early clinical development of antibody and peptide-based therapeutic products. While at Centocor, Dr. Woody, along with colleagues, developed Remicade, the first of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitor biologics, that benefited patients with rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis. He also helped develop ReoPro, a novel platelet blocking drug used in conjunction with angioplasty. Prior to Centocor, Woody served as Commanding Officer and Director, U.S. Naval Medical Research and Development Command in Bethesda Maryland. In that role, he was responsible for a wide range of medical research and development activities ranging from transplantation research to infectious diseases. He was responsible for the surveillance, detection, and therapy for all Biologic Warfare Agents and Infectious Diseases in the first Gulf War, and he was awarded the U.S. Navy Legion of Merit for his service. In previous years, as a Navy Medical Officer, Woody served as Commanding Officer of the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit-No. 3 (NAMRU), the U.S. Navy’s biocontainment level 4 facility in Cairo, Egypt, doing infectious disease surveillance over the eastern Mediterranean area, including serving as the World Health Organization HIV Reference Center and training facility for the area. During his Navy career, James Woody and his colleagues in the U.S. Navy, as part of their radiation injury and transplantation research, started the “National Marrow Donor Program”, which has been successful in assisting over 80,000 patients in need of matched marrow transplant donors. Dr. Woody previously served as Chairman of the Board of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital (Stanford). He chairs the LPCH Quality, Service, and Safety Committee. James Woody holds an M.D. from Loma Linda University, trained in Pediatric Immunology at Duke University and Children’s Hospital in Boston (Harvard), and holds a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of London, England. He was Professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology at Georgetown University School of Medicine 1982–1996. Dr. Woody has authored or co-authored over 140 publications.

Committee Staff Members
Marsha Turner, M.S. (Managing Director / Alternate Designated Federal Officer)
Marsha Turner, RACGWVI Managing Director and Alternate Designated Federal Officer, has extensive experience in clinical research initiatives with career focus on chronic and unexplained medical conditions. Ms. Turner has coordinated research initiatives within the VA since 2011 and was previously the National Gulf War Program Manager stationed at the Gulf War Research Resource within the Cooperative Studies and Epidemiology Center (CSPEC) in Durham, North Carolina. Prior to VA, she coordinated research for the UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Turner has a strong interest in improving quality of life for Veterans and their families living with multiple and debilitating health conditions.

Dan Sloper, M.A. (Technical Writer/Editor)
Dan Sloper is the Technical Writer and Editor for the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses. In this role, Mr. Sloper prepares, writes and edits documents for the RACGWVI staff and committee members. He received a Master of Arts in Cellular and Molecular Biology from Saint Cloud State University, Saint Cloud, MN. Part of his experience includes biomedical cancer researcher at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, MN. He also served in the United States Marine Corps from 1986–1991 working as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Specialist. He is excited to be part of the RACGWVI team and helping to improve the lives of fellow Gulf War Veterans and their families.

Stan Corpus, B.A. (Program Coordinator)
Stan Corpus is the Program Coordinator for the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses. In this role, Mr. Corpus provides planning, coordinating, logistics, and administrative support for RACGWVI staff, and committee members. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Organizational Leadership from Brandman/Chapman University, Orange, CA and a graduate of the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy Ft. Bliss, Texas. Mr. Corpus is no stranger to coordinating, having served as an Operations Non-Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Army, and was responsible for coordinating successful major deployments during his time in the military.