Gulf War Illness:
Coming Soon to a Community Near You?
At least 88,000 U.S. Gulf War veterans are complaining of illness since
returning from the Gulf five years ago. Some have died. Some illnesses
are getting progressively worse. The Pentagon continues to deny medical
and disability coverage to veterans and to deny the existence of Gulf War
illnesses. If this is how the military "takes care of its own" those of us
who live near military toxic sites ought to be very concerned.
I recently had the opportunity to meet some of these veterans and their
families at the National Gulf War Research Center conference in Tampa,
Florida. I was struck by the similarities of their stories with the
problems citizens living near toxic military stockpiles having been
dealing with for the past 50 years.
The Gulf War was the most toxic war in history. Gulf War veterans were
exposed to depleted uranium rounds (300 tons were blown up); chemical
weapons; pesticides; and experimental drugs. It is no mystery why they
are now suffering from debilitating illnesses, and why as many as 50-70%
of spouses of ill veterans are ill themselves, and about 25-50% of
veteran's children are sick or have birth defects (Senator Riegle, Deseret
Shield/Desert Storm Foundation national survey). Studies reveal that
veterans from other coalition countries as well as civilians in Iraq, are
However, there is more involved in this story than the health of Gulf War
veterans. The U.S. has its own stockpile of more than 30,000 tons of
chemical weapons stored in eight U.S. communities and the Pacific. In
addition, it has more than 200 non-stockpile sites scattered across the
country which contain buried and aging chemical munitions and more
than 15,000 toxic dump sites across the country. For more than 12
years, local citizens fighting the Army's chemical weapons incineration
plan have been assured that exposure to low levels of chemical weapons
will not hurt them.
According to Jim Tuite, former Congressional researcher, a thermal
plume of nerve gas from blown up chemical weapons in Iraq may have traveled
as far as 200-500 kilometers. And yet the Army continues to assure local
residents that a toxic plume of nerve gas from its chemical weapons
incinerator in Utah would not travel beyond the depot fence line.
Sensitive chemical agent monitors used in the Gulf War -- similar to
those used in chemical weapons incinerators -- did not work. False
positive alarms were sounded hundreds of times and were written off as
caused by environmental contaminants such as diesel fuel and pesticides.
False positive alarms have also plagued the Army's model incinerator in the Pacific.
More than 50 years of the Pentagon's reckless behavior on U.S. soil have
already resulted in illnesses similar to those experienced by Gulf War
veterans. During the 1950s and 1960s open air tests released nearly
500,000 pounds of nerve gas into the environment at Utah's Dugway
Proving Ground. More than 328 open germ warfare tests were conducted
at Dugway, as well as 20 open-air tests of radioactive non-nuclear
explosions. (Deseret News, December 23, 1994). Dugway workers were
used as guinea pigs to test the effects of chemical and biological
weapons, and experimental drugs. They now complain of heart attacks
at early ages, cancers, multiple sclerosis, and severe arthritis. But, like
Gulf War veterans, their calls for government and military accountability
have been repeatedly denied.
It is time for the CIA and the Pentagon to stop acting outside of the law
and release information pertaining to Gulf War and civilian exposures.
It is time that the public health of American citizens and veterans take
precedence over "intelligence gathering secrets." It is time that national
security be redefined to include protection of American citizens.
We can help the NGWRC by sharing information about Gulf War
Syndrome with friends and family in our communities who served in
the Gulf War. The NGWRC has recently published a self help guide for
veterans who and their families who are concerned about Gulf War
illness. To order this self help guide call (202) 628-2700 ext. 162. Or
write NGWRC at 1224 M Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20005. More
information can be found on the World Wide Web at
"www.gulfwar.org/resource_Center" or "www.gulfwar.org/GWVA/"