DoD Document Reveals Military Was Concerned About Gulf War Vets’ Exposure to Depleted Uranium in 1993

The VA does not listen to expert scientists. The VA does not even listen to Congress,” said Paul Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) in his testimony. “Two decades of inaction have already passed. Gulf War veterans urgently want to avoid the four decades of endless suffering endured by our Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange.”

By: Mike Ludwig,

July 28 2010

For years, the government has denied that depleted uranium (DU), a radioactive toxic waste left over from nuclear fission and added to munitions used in the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars, poisoned Iraqi civilians and veterans.

But a little-known 1993 Defense Department document written by then-Brigadier Gen. Eric Shinseki, now the secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), shows that the Pentagon was concerned about DU contamination and the agency had ordered medical testing on all personnel that were exposed to the toxic substance.

The memo, under the subject line, “Review of Draft to Congress – Health and Environmental Consequences of Depleted Uranium in the U.S. Army — Action Memorandum,” makes some small revisions to the details of these three orders from the DoD:

1. Provide adequate training for personnel who may come in contact with DU contaminated equipment.

2. Complete medical testing of all personnel exposed to DU in the Persian Gulf War.

3. Develop a plan for DU contaminated equipment recovery during future operations.

The VA, however, never conducted the medical tests, which may have deprived hundreds of thousands of veterans from receiving medical care to treat cancer and other diseases that result from exposure to DU.

The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center recently reported that ten years of data confirm that service members tend to have higher rates of certain cancers compared to civilians, according to the Army Times. While researchers suspected that service members are diagnosed with cancer more often and at a younger age because they have guaranteed access to health care and mandatory exams, the data does not explain the disparities in diagnosis among branches of the military. For example, the rate of lung cancer among sailors is twice that of other branches, while Marines have much lower cancer rates across the board.

On Tuesday, the VA’s ongoing failure to treat and diagnose Gulf War related illnesses came up during a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee hearing where a veterans advocacy group urged Shinseki to undertake comprehensive research on the correlation between chronic illness and exposure to DU in munitions during the Gulf War.

Armed with Shinseki’s August 19, 1993 memo, Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), said the VA, and Shinseki in particular, have “a rare opportunity for a second chance.”

“In military terms, VCS asks VA for a ceasefire,” said Paul Sullivan, the executive director for VCS. “VCS urges VA leadership to stop and listen to our veterans before time runs out, as VA is killing veterans slowly with bureaucratic delays and mismanaged research that prevent us from receiving treatments or benefits in a timely manner.”

Sullivan, himself a Gulf War veteran, told the subcommittee that the VA has refused to listen to scientists and veterans who are concerned about DU, leaving thousands of veterans suffering from chronic illnesses related to the conflict unsure if they will ever receive a solid diagnosis to justify the benefits and treatment they need.

Of the 697,000 men and woman who served in Gulf War operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield between 1990 and 1991, about 250,000 suffer from symptoms collectively known as “Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses.” The symptoms include fatigue, weakness, gastrointestinal problems, cognitive dysfunction, sleep disturbances, persistent headaches, skin rashes, respiratory conditions and mood changes, according to the VA.

The VCS also petitioned Shinseki to investigate the 2009 termination of a $75 million research project on Gulf War illnesses at the University of Texas medical center. Last year the VCS filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records of the “internal sabotage” of Gulf War Veterans Illnesses research and the intentional delaying of research and treatment, according to Sullivan. The VA has yet to release any documents about the impeded research, and VCS filed a FOIA appeal on June 29.

Sullivan said the VCS simply wants the government to support independent testing on veterans exposed to DU, but the Department of Defense prefers a “don’t look, don’t find policy.”

“As a Gulf War veteran, I have watched too many of my friends die without answers, without treatment, and without benefits,” Sullivan said. “In a few cases, veterans completed suicide due to Gulf War illness and the frustration of dealing with VA.”

Sullivan testified as disturbing reports have emerged in recent months from Fallujah, Iraq, about the skyrocketing rates of birth defects and cancer,  which are being blamed on DU-laced bombs and munitions used by US and British forces during a brutal coalition assault on the city in 2004. Iraqi human rights officials are reportedly planning to file a lawsuit.

DU is a dense metal added to munitions and bombs to pierce tanks and armor, and the military seems to chose unrestricted use of the radioactive substance over its soldiers’ safety. Sullivan told Truthout that original medical tests ordered in a 1993 memo, which also called for personnel to be trained in dealing with contaminated equipment, were canceled after a training video scared soldiers.

“It was pulled after [the training video] was seen by some soldiers who became upset when they saw soldiers in moon suits holding Geiger counters, and the military realized that the training could present a problem in the battlefield where soldiers need to disregard exposure issues while trying to kill the enemy,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that the DU “follow-up” program the VA consistently references was inadequate as it consisted of sporadic studies on only a small fraction of estimated 400,000 veterans exposed to the radioactive heavy metal.

“The VA does not listen to expert scientists. The VA does not even listen to Congress,” Sullivan said in his testimony. “Two decades of inaction have already passed. Gulf War veterans urgently want to avoid the four decades of endless suffering endured by our Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange.”

Sullivan said it took 40 years and an act of Congress to fund and sanction independent studies that proved the VA was responsible for providing benefits to soldier suffering from Agent Orange-related diseases.

The VA now recognizes that exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide sprayed across Vietnam to kill foliage and expose guerrilla fighters, has plagued veterans with several deadly diseases and disorders.

VCS also advocated for the research on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that became the foundation of new PTSD rules, making it easier for veterans to receive benefits.

Last week, the VA announced $2.8 million worth of research on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, a sum Sullivan called “paltry.” A VA press release announcing the research does not mention DU. The release references a recent Institute of Medicine report that identified the quarter million veterans affected by various symptoms associated with Gulf War illness, which “cannot be ascribed to any psychiatric disorder and likely result from genetic and environmental factors, although the data are not strong enough to draw conclusions about specific causes.”

Popular medical science holds that kidney damage is the primary health problem associated with exposure to high amounts of DU. The heavy metal is 60 percent as radioactive as natural uranium, and is also linked to lung cancer in some cases and leukemia in even fewer cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Some critics have claimed that the WHO and governments have suppressed links between DU and cancer.

The debate over the use of DU in conventional warfare will rage on as the Fallujah fallout continues, but according to Sullivan, there is only one way for thousands of Gulf War veterans at home to know the truth and receive the relief they deserve.

“After 20 years of waiting, we refuse to wait on more empty promises from VA. The first step is for Secretary Shinseki and Chief of Staff Gingrich to immediately clean house of VA bureaucrats who have so utterly and miserably failed our veterans for too long,” said Sullivan, vowing to petition Congress if the VA refuses to respond. “Our waiting must end now.” Source

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Gov’t Study Concludes “Gulf War Syndrome” is Legitimate Condition, Affects 1 in 4 Vets

December 4 2008

Seventeen years after the Gulf war, a congressionally mandated committee has concluded that “Gulf war syndrome” is a legitimate condition that continues to affect one quarter of the nearly 700,000 US soldiers deployed in that war. In a report presented last month to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses said, “Scientific evidence leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans.” We speak with a Gulf War vet who was a part of the committee and who himself is sick.

Guest:

Anthony Hardie, Member of Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses and National Secretary and Legislative Chair of Veterans of Modern Warfare.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Seventeen years after the Gulf War, a congressionally mandated committee has concluded that Gulf War syndrome is a legitimate condition that continues to affect one quarter of the nearly 700,000 US soldiers deployed in that war. In a report presented last month to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses said, “Scientific evidence leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans.”

The 450-page report details the serious longstanding and sometimes permanent neurotoxic damage seen in veterans of the 1991 war with Iraq. It concludes that the condition was primarily caused by overexposure to pesticides and a drug given to troops to protect against nerve gas.

The US government has long denied the existence of Gulf War syndrome, despite growing evidence and claims by veterans. Gulf War veterans were often told they were suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, and their symptoms were trivialized. The report says that no effective treatment has been found so far and emphasizes the need for further research.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Hardie is a veteran of the Gulf War, member of the Research Advisory Committee that authored the report. He is national secretary and legislative chair of Veterans of Modern Warfare and a former officer with the National Gulf War Resource Center, joining us from Madison, Wisconsin.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Anthony. You’re sick, as well?

ANTHONY HARDIE: Yes, that’s right. I’ve had health issues ever since—

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what you suffer from?

ANTHONY HARDIE: Absolutely. I’ve had health issues ever since being in the Gulf. First, about two-thirds of the group that I was with began to be ill from the pyridostigmine bromide, or the nerve agent protective pills that we took, and then, once in Kuwait, began having severe respiratory and sinus issues. Those have continued and have progressed into the kinds of chronic multi-symptom illness that I’m certainly far from unique. Between 175,000 and 210,000 of my fellow Gulf War veterans are suffering from the same kinds of symptoms and illness that I’m suffering from and many far worse than my situation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, could you tell us a little bit about what the report concluded, because obviously there’s been a lot of debate over the years about the many possible causes of what came to be called as Gulf War syndrome?

ANTHONY HARDIE: Well, that’s right. Well, it was an exhaustive study of about—a survey of about 1,800 scientific studies. And I want to clarify, the report was written by the scientists on the committee, and there are five of us Gulf War veterans on the committee, and we assisted in reviewing the report, but it was a scientific report. And the study concluded that pyridostigmine bromide, or the nerve agent protective pills, and pesticides were the two, could be linked causally to the health effects of Gulf War veterans and a majority who are suffering from chronic multi-symptom illness.

It also determined that we could not rule out a number of other potential causes, including low-level nerve agent and chemical warfare agent exposure throughout the Gulf War and a number of other causes. It suggested that things like depleted uranium, while there are known health effects including cancers, was probably not the cause of the chronic multi-symptom illness affecting most Gulf War veterans, but it certainly didn’t rule out that depleted uranium has health effects of its own.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised by any of the findings, Anthony Hardie? And talk about the significance of this being well over a dozen years since you were serving in the Gulf.

ANTHONY HARDIE: Well, seventeen years after the war, the report says what we Gulf War veterans have been saying all along. And that’s that we have health issues, that those health issues began during the Gulf, that they have progressed since then, that they have been largely unabated and that they’re continuing. So the report says in scientific terms what we’ve been saying all along.

The most disappointing thing is that current VA secretary, Dr. James Peake, said during his presentation that we neither deny nor trivialize the health issues of Gulf War veterans. Yet just a few days later, Secretary Peake and the federal VA referred the report, rather than jumping on its conclusions and making benefits and healthcare changes for Gulf War veterans, referred it to yet another committee, the Institute of Medicine, deciding that they needed further evidence.

And it’s awfully disappointing that still, seventeen years after the war, nearly 200,000 Gulf War veterans still remain ill and are not getting adequate healthcare from the federal VA. And as I testified before Congress last year, being seen is not the same thing as being treated, and to add further to that, treating symptoms is not the same thing as treating the disease.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And this pill that many of the soldiers took, were they forced to take this pill? Could they refuse it? And what were you told at the time when the military administered it?

ANTHONY HARDIE: That the pill was the pyridostigmine bromide pill, also known as the nerve agent protective pill, and it was to help us survive a nerve agent attack, helping to make sure that the atropine injectors that we had would be more successful in saving our lives if we were exposed to nerve agents.

I understand that throughout the Gulf War theater of operations, that it varied on how Gulf War veterans—excuse me – Gulf War troops were taking the pills. In my group, I think we were more of the typical type, in that we were mandated to take the pills. In fact, as a supervisor, I was required to physically watch my soldiers put the pill into their mouth, swallow it and make sure that they had taken it, again because there were—these measures were taken because there were significant side effects for so many of us. Again in my group, about two-thirds of us had pretty significant side effects at the time of taking the pill.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony, did people resist?

ANTHONY HARDIE: Some were concerned about it, but it was—again, it was mandated, and it’s the military, and we do what we were told.

AMY GOODMAN: Were they approved by the FDA?

ANTHONY HARDIE: My understanding at the time was that there was a waiver given by the FDA to the US Department of Defense that waived informed consent, and we were told that at the time, told that it was an experimental drug, but that we were still required to take it. And experimental in the sense of—

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the immediate effects that you had at the time?

ANTHONY HARDIE: Like we were told we would have the symptoms of low-level nerve agent exposure, so watery eyes, respiratory issues, runny nose, diarrhea, upset stomach, tremors, fatigue, all those sorts of things, and feeling very—just simply feeling very ill.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what the Kuwaiti cough is, Anthony Hardie?

ANTHONY HARDIE: Sure, that’s a nickname that some of us Gulf War veterans gave our cough that we developed while over in the Gulf and then came back with. I coughed up black sputum for the last two months that I was there. I was excited when the war was over. I could start running again, began running and breathing in that black oil well fire smoke that colored my sputum black, by coughing up significant chunks of—large chunks about the size of a large gumball from my lungs. I believe now that those are probably pieces of lung tissue from exposure to chemical warfare agents and then colored black from the oil well fire smoke as well. But many of us came back, and we had this cough continued thereafter. And while running, then we would use our asthma inhalers—determined later that we didn’t have—we did not have asthma, but joked that that was our—you know, sort of our medal, as well, for the Kuwait battle.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony, we just have twenty seconds, and I wanted to know, with the report out, what do you want to see happen right now?

ANTHONY HARDIE: We need to see, most of all, treatment, effective treatment for Gulf War veterans. It’s been seventeen years, and that’s an awful long time to wait for effective treatment. For those who are not getting compensation, of course they need to be compensated. But most importantly, treating those who are ill.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you for being with us. Anthony Hardie, joining us from Madison, Wisconsin—

ANTHONY HARDIE: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: —member of the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses, just came out with its report, and national secretary and legislative chair of Veterans of Modern Warfare.

Source

Gulf War illness is real
WASHINGTON

November 18 2008

A congressionally-mandated panel has concluded that “Gulf War syndrome” is real and that more than a quarter of the 700,000 US veterans of the 1991 conflict suffer from the illness.

The most extensive-ever report on the debilitating, multi-symptom illness released Monday concluded that it is caused by exposure to toxic chemicals including pesticides, used against sand flies and other pests, and a drug administered to protect soldiers against nerve gas.

“The extensive body of scientific research now available consistently indicates that Gulf War illness is real, that it is the result of neurotoxic exposures during Gulf War deployment, and that few veterans have recovered or substantially improved with time,” said the 450-page report, presented to Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake.

“Veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War had the distinction of serving their country in a military operation that was a tremendous success, achieved in short order. But many had the misfortune of developing lasting health consequences that were poorly understood and, for too long, denied or trivialized,” the report said.

The report’s producer, the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses comprised of scientists and veterans, was chartered by Congress in part because of many complaints that veterans were not receiving adequate care.

The committee’s scientific director, Boston University school of public health dean Roberta White, said the findings “clearly substantiate veterans’ beliefs that their health problems are related to exposures experienced in the Gulf theatre.”

She said veterans “have been plagued by ill health since their return 17 years ago. Although evidence for this health phenomenon is overwhelming, veterans repeatedly find that their complaints are met with cynicism and a ‘blame the victim’ mentality that attributes their health problems to mental illness or non-physical factors.”

The report said Gulf War illness is typically characterized by memory and concentration problems, persistent headaches, unexplained fatigue and widespread pain, and may also include respiratory symptoms, digestive problems and skin rashes.

The panel cited two exposures causally associated with Gulf War illness: the drug pyridostigmine bromide, or PB, given to soldiers to protect against nerve gas; and pesticides widely used during the war.

The panel noted that federal funding for Gulf War research had dropped dramatically in recent years and urged 60 million dollars in annual funding.

Gulf War syndrome is the popular name for a chronic multisymptom illness complex first identified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1994 after thousands of returning troops complained of numerous unexplained symptoms.

Several earlier reports pointed to the stress of combat as a likely explanation for the illness.

Source