Persian Gulf War, The Untold Story, a short book
CHAPTER ONE: DESERT STORM TO IRAQI FREEDOM
In 1991 and 1992 we all watched the VA slowly put the same squeeze on the DS troopers as they have so well done the Vietnam veteran in the past. First the news came down that the President of the U.S. had personally taken interest in the DS troops and was to assure all of America, the claims of the troops and their families would receive top priority. Many strange ideas were put into effect, such as reducing the beds in VA hospitals to make room for combat casualties. After all, America was supporting the operations in Desert Storm and if a little inconvenience was to be had by a few veterans, so be it. As a matter of fact most of the veteran organizations were willing to turn aside their cheeks and allow the VA hospitals to place veterans on the streets in January!
. . . most of the veteran organizations were willing to turn aside their cheeks and allow VA hospitals to place veterans on the streets . . . and they indeed did put veterans on the street!
In order to utilize the Desert Storm emergency hospitals available, the President was in a position known as "between a rock and a hard place". This is not to take anything away from the importance of the position of the Administration at that time; nor, am I critical of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It becomes necessary to advise you that due to budget cuts, many Military hospitals had been eliminated or greatly scaled down. We had not the method of dealing with the casualties that were feared to happen. In order to prepare for the casualties, our political representatives decided to empty beds in the VA hospitals to gain the required safety numbers for emergency care. After all, the veterans in the VA hospitals usually are those without much political clout. So, the VA hospitals were set up to handle those patriots who were in Desert Storm. No doubt at all, these people needed proper facilities to be set up for their care, just not at the expense of those who had already borne the battle. The next idea to come from the Administration was to handle VA claims quickly. A group of VA specialists were taken from the normal routine and assigned to a special task force to handle the expected high rate of claims. This in itself was not a bad idea; as a matter of fact the theory was very good. They should have gone one step further and hired new employees in the VA to assist the back log of claims. After all in 1995 it was a seven month wait for the average claim to be processed. In 2005 it is an eleven month wait. Unless it is a chemical exposure claim, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can take years.
Well as time marches on, so does the political thoughts of politicians. Soon the President quietly canceled the special programs for Desert Storm veterans; but, only after he had placed into effect the streamlined special task group to handle the claims and reduced the caseload in the VA hospitals. What did this mean to the veterans? Simple, the Desert Storm veteran had achieved the ire of nearly all other vets in getting more quicker and easier (at least in the minds of other vets). The other veterans were now being served with less people in the various areas of the VA Regional Offices due to the personnel shift. In other words they were being short changed by the VA to accommodate the Desert Storm veteran. In reality the Desert Storm veteran was not being given all of the priority as promised, only the publicity. So they were in the eyes of there fellow vets of prior encounters, being placed on a pedestal, while in reality they were on the chopping block. . . . as time marches on, so does the political thoughts of politicians. So in 2005 we see history repeating itself and veteran standing up to support those who are cutting away benefits, all in the support of their politics!
Well here it is a decade later and we are still in the Persian Gulf, still fighting the same war against the same groups as before. In the between time of media interest, we saw the loss of personnel on the USS Cole, the 911 attack on New York City. This time the VA appears to respond to the PGW veteran. It is costly as older veterans are deleted from the system to make room. We had major problems in 1992 and to give you an example we will discuss a veteran for the sake of a name is Jorge.
To give some background we will identify Jorge's problem. He was wounded in action and declared to be 70% disabled by the Army. Jorge received full Army pay until May 1, 1991. At that time he was separated from active duty and placed on the Temporary Disabled Retirement List. He then had to wait two months without income until the disability check was to come in the mail. He was shocked to learn the amount of his check was far less that he earned while on active duty. Jorge had properly applied for VA Compensation while on active duty and expected to be quickly approved under the promises made to the public by the President. The problem was due to the swift work of the DS troops, the war came to a swift end. As did the special efforts on the part of the VA and the Army. To make matters even worse for my client he does not speak and understand English as well as he does Spanish, so a lot of his expectations were never to be. He thought the VA would make up what he had lost; but, alas, they didn't and won't.
Again we have a generation of veterans who are receiving some disdain of the WW2 veterans, who are quick to criticize our recent heros, who were in the media held in such high esteem (as long as it sold papers and TV time). Then much to my surprise many Vietnam veterans began to become critical of the treatment of the PGW veterans, not knowing the government once again had "kicked the props out from under the vet". Sound familiar? It happens every time.
CHAPTER TWO: PERSIAN GULF WAR VETERAN BENEFITS
In a 1993 meeting of the Veterans Service Organizations with the Director of the VA Out Patient Clinic in Columbus, in early February, Desert Storm exams were the main topic. It was stated by the coordinator for the Desert Storm program that there is a 60% no show on examinations. The VA OPC did go all out to provide excellent medical care and preventive medicine to all Desert Storm veterans who cared to take advantage. It seems as many will indicate a need for medical examinations and cancel for nearly any reason; or, no reason apparently.
We were told the VA Clinic staff, lost a doctor due to the no show attitude. A second doctor has left as well, somewhat discouraged. We are now on our third doctor. With this pattern, we could see an end to a vital program. It seems as if for some it is easy come, easy go. Maybe the terrible lessons learned by the ATOMIC VETERANS have not been passed on to the Desert Storm veterans. It is a possibility these same veterans have not heard of the destruction of minds and bodies of those who were exposed to herbicides also known as AGENT ORANGE.
Now we are in the midst of a struggle again in Iraq. As we work constantly to improve the lot of the veteran in our everyday struggle with bureaucrats to protect what we have; we must insure those in need take advantage of available benefits. It is easy for some people to sit around in a veterans post canteen, or elsewhere and talk about how much is "handed" to a certain group of veterans. Let me tell you, that in my personal experience, nothing has ever been "handed" to any group of veterans. It took over 400,000 lives during WWII to bring this country to establish a viable program to reintegrate American fighting men and women back into society. The battle has never waned in all that fifty years. It has actually become much tougher to hold onto many of our benefits. Currently there is a raging battle over entitlement. This is a word that may cease to exist as we know it. When veterans do not care enough about their health to keep a medical appointment, the appropriation for that care will soon cease. We had the exact same problem in 1995 as we have in 2005!
What does it take to get the attention of a PGW veteran?
In 1992 we were told that Saturdays were set aside at the VA Clinic for Desert Storm veterans to come in for their examinations. Six of every ten failed to show. The doctors feel the persons involved are not interested. It seems as if the doctors may well be right. These same people did not want to miss work to go to the VA Clinic during the work week (as do all other veterans). They were given an opportunity to see the "free", to them, VA doctor on the weekend. The scenario was deleted from the current action. It is strictly Monday to Friday.
Please take the rumors seriously regarding VA benefits being threatened. Several years ago the word "entitlement" was used by ranking veteran organization officers to insure our benefits were more than benefits. Well that was just not true. In the past decade multiple benefits have been simply ended for most veterans. Just because you have not needed the VA as of yet, does not mean you will never need those benefits. Congressional Representatives have proven recently only Social Security will not be on the table, for cuts.
If you are a PGW veteran and have no obvious medical problems congratulations. If you are one of the many who we have seen at the AMVETS office, make sure you show up for your exams!
THE DESERTED STORM, NOW WHAT?
In the 1992-95 years, we watched another generation of veterans suffer; from the wrath of a system that was designed to help them. It seems as if the bureaucratic officials throw every possible block into the paths of those suffering most. I have watched in literal shock, as the Department of Veteran Affairs, the VA, prevent people from recovering their lives. It seems as if the system works against the veteran. I will cite two examples to start.
First is Jorge, who was injured in a truck which was hit on the Iraqi border. Jorge has severe injuries that have left him permanently disabled. The VA took nearly a year in processing the claim. The claim was straight forward with little or no interpretation needed. The veteran had suffered extreme injuries and was totally disabled. He had multiple broken bones up and down one complete side of his body. First the Army rated him 70% and placed him TDRL. Then the VA rated him 30%. The veteran received the letter of award. The veteran was happy, 70% plus 30% equaled 100%, right? Wrong! The VA had found his condition much less than totally disabling. However, the Social Security Administration found him 100% disabled. He in fact, four years later, is barely able to get around. To add insult to injury, late in 1994, the VA discovered he had received severance pay and has decided to stop his compensation until they recoup the funds paid. This is one month after the Army had sued to get the unused bonus back as he did not finish his reenlistment period. The Army almost went berserk over the $191.31 debt incurred because he was hit by a rocket in Iraq. At this point I would expect him to receive a bill for the Army health care he received. The Army almost went berserk over the $191.31. Upon his return to Columbus, Jorge found he could not get health care at the VA Clinic. He was not eligible. He had to go to Dayton or Fort Knox for each visit. There were many visits. His time meant nothing to the Army or the VA. We filed his claim and after nearly a year the VA approved it. But, every month he seems to get another letter from a government agency of some sort, wanting him to send them money.
Jorge is a warm and friendly man. His Spanish is excellent and his personality is as warm as the sun drenched beaches of his native Puerto Rico. You see, Jorge joined the Army to serve the nation he loves, the United States of America.
Enter Ellie. You could never find a bubblier, kind young lady. Ellie was a very happy reservist who loved her Army and drilled like there was no tomorrow. Ellie as many others went to Saudi. There she performed her job as she was trained. She worked for the Army as she worked for her self. After all she owned her own company at home. She knew the need to give 100% effort in the job. She gave 100% in her company and 100% for the Army. She is a proud American, proud to serve. She went to Desert Storm on a mission. While there, one of her subordinates was mangled in a pump; and she was exposed to something that changed her life forever.
Upon her return to CONUS she decided to get on with her business. Then suddenly out of the clear blue sky. Bang, she found herself very ill and unable to do anything about it. She went to the VA Clinic. It was to no avail. No cause could be found. Suddenly seizures set in and she became further disabled. Suddenly she had to be rushed to a local hospital for intensive care treatment. It was there that I visited with her. She signed releases of information and we went to work. I spoke with her physician at the hospital who explained that the condition was indeed very serious and that she had been extremely over medicated by accident.
It did not take but a few minutes on my part to discover that she had seen several doctors who had prescribed medications not knowing that other VA doctors were prescribing either the same or conflicting medications. You must understand none of the doctors knew what they were looking for. Our government has this habit of covering up the mistakes made on the troops. Well we had properly filed a claim for disability. Ellie went off to Washington to visit the VA facility that supposedly had all answers. Again, few answers but many more questions. Ellie was told that she was one sick soldier.
It seems as if the Bureaucrats look for ways to bring discomfort on the already disabled veteran. She was told by her doctors to get her affairs in order. She was now losing more weight than any one could believe. She went under 90 pounds. Then came a VA letter. "You have been found able to secure employment." She was stunned and so were we. I have spoken with each of her doctors. Not one of them agree with the VA decision. It is not a simple matter of calling the VA office in Cleveland; the Desert Storm claims are being worked in Louisville, Kentucky. No access with people we can work with. Well the Social Security Administration came through in championship form. Ellie was found to be 100% disabled. Now what makes this highly suspect is the fact she was examined seven times for reenlistment in the Army. Now Social Security recognizes her as 100% and the VA 20%. Someone is in a fog zone.
CHAPTER FOUR: A 1995 LETTER TO THE VA RATING BOARD
To the Rating Board:
RE: Name withheld due to privacy act
August 2, 1995 should go down in history as another fiasco with the Department of Defense (DoD). The announcement from the DoD has created much concern within the veteran community. It is with utter disgust, I listen to the media reports that "Persian Gulf Syndrome" is not in reality a problem. We have documented cases in Franklin County as one that prove their theory is incorrect. This is exactly what happened during and after Vietnam with Agent Orange. It used to seem as if the government would forget the veteran when he or she arrived home. Now the government goes out of their way, to prove they forget the veteran.
As it has been written in previous articles several of my clients have suffered great physical and emotional damage as a result of the tour in the Persian Gulf. As mentioned in the past "Desert Storm is now the Deserted Storm". Ellie, my client, has completely changed in physical appearance as well as physical health. She lost so much weight, she was prescribed supplements such as Ensure to stop the weight loss, she still fell to ninety pounds. It is again important to remember she had passed at least five reenlistment examinations. Yet, the VA only found her 20% service connected for seizures. According to the DoD her total hair loss was all in her head. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize the total hair loss was not in her head, it was off her head. All this information was documented by St Ann's Hospital, the VA Outpatient Clinic in Columbus, the VA Medical Center in Chillicothe, as well as the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The Washington VAMC trip was well documented by WBNS 10-TV in Columbus. It is impossible for the DoD or the VA to show any reason for Ellie having the problems she has encountered without pinpointing it on her exposure to some form of substance in the Persian Gulf. She was there. She had excellent health prior to going to the Persian Gulf. She has been sick every day since she returned.
We have several other formerly healthy individuals who are suffering from maladies similar as Ellie. Where is the answer to their problems? I'll tell you where their answers are; they are in the trash bin with all of the other difficult situations veterans are confronted with. It is so easy for Congress to pass watered down legislation and allow the VA to interpret it in any form they wish. It is even easier for the VA Legal Counsel to rule out help for needy veterans, knowing the veterans are nearly defenseless. It seems to many deals are made to protect the sacred budget, human beings are sacrificed. The sad part of the situation is so many non veterans are making decisions that literally destroy our comrades for life. It amazes me how the government can justify hiring so many non veterans for life altering decision making.
A few years ago, my letters and articles upset a few people in the Regional Office. It seemed as if they felt no one should question their decisions. Well it seems as if the decisions need questioned. I tell you, that this woman suffered within the first one year, from her separation of service, total disability. It is not her fault; doctors do not have the ability to diagnose her condition. Hire new doctors if you need to. Don't kill my client. Veterans made one sacrifice when they went off to war, one sacrifice is enough.
CHAPTER FIVE LEISHMANIASIS
The Assistant Secretary of Defense William Winkenwerder has issued a Memo regarding deadly conditions facing our troops in Iraq which I read October 9, 2003. This is a stern warning for all persons in Iraq to be aware of the deadly situation.
Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease spread by the bite of the sandfly. This is a preventable disease native to Iraq. The Assistant Secretary has asked this be given to all distribution possible. It now looks like we are going to have problems with our returnees that could be catastrophic. One condition is cutaneous Leishmaniasis Baghdad boil) which creates terrible skin lesions which may look like STDs. This leaves permanent disfiguring. the other is visceral Leishmaniasis (Kala-azar) which can be fatal.
Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors Leishmaniasis are tiny protozoa. Their parasitic life cycle includes the sandfly and an appropriate host. Humans are one of those hosts. Leishmania infection can cause skin disease (called cutaneous Leishmaniasis).
It can affect the mucous membranes with a wide range of appearance, most frequently ulcers. It may cause skin lesions that resemble those of other diseases including cutaneous tuberculosis, syphilis, leprosy, skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma, and fungus infections.
Leishmania can also cause systemic disease (visceral Leishmaniasis) with fatal complications. When introduced into the body by the bite of a sandfly, the parasite migrates to the bone marrow, spleen, and lymph nodes.
Systemic infection in children usually begins suddenly with vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and cough. In adults, fever for 2 weeks to 2 months is accompanied by nonspecific symptoms, such as fatigue, weakness and loss of appetite Weakness increases as the disease progresses. The skin may become grayish, dark, dry, and flaky. The parasites damage the immune system by decreasing the numbers of disease-fighting cells so death usually results from complications (such as other infections) rather than from the disease itself. Death often occurs within 2 years.
Upon separation from active duty the Iraq veterans need to contact the nearest VA Environmental Physician as soon as possible!
It seems as if the issues affecting veterans health are short lived, that is until they start dying. Then it is to late. Hopefully this time all returnees would be examined. Since it will be volunteer and since many fail to get the word, it is unlikely all will be examined in time!
As far as insecticide goes, it has been reported to me that the military has advised Iraqi Freedom troops to soak their clothes in an insecticide. At least one soldiers wife advised me her husband broke out in a severe rash. Possibly that would be a good reason, to kill the sand flies and other deadly insects.
By the way this problem was known at the time of all of the critical health issues with PGW-I veterans. The government just failed to advise those folks who were coming up with severe and deadly medical problems.
To everyone who cares, many insecticides have carcinogens causing cancer in them. I am not aware of the type of insecticide used so am only asking a question: is the prevention as bad as the disease?
I wrote In Search Of The Truth For Vietnam Combat Veterans. A book about herbicides. I certainly hope I will not have a sequel about insecticides!
Meanwhile back at the VA Central Office....
CHAPTER SIX AMYOTROPHIC LATERAL SCLEROSIS AND PERSIAN GULF VETERANS
There is no doubt that we have all read the recent link of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Persian Gulf Veterans by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Institute of Medicine, which was released in early December 2001. However, the AMVETS has a much different twist than any other veteran organization.
On December 6, 2001 AMVETS State Service Officer David Barker and AMVET member of the Portsmouth (Ohio) Post 2352 appeared in the VA Regional Office in Huntington West Virginia for a video-conference Board of Veteran Appeals personal hearing.
The issue was the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and their unyielding belief that this condition was directly related to the exposure of chemicals and gases in the Persian Gulf. Only a few people believe there was much of a chance in this scheduled hearing, that the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) would grant benefits. After an hour of questions and responses the Hearing Officer stated she would review the transcript and any evidence currently in the file and give a response. Service Officer Barker asked if the NAS report would be finalized and the VA accepted the report, would it be considered? The Hearing Officer said if the report was released, the AMVETS must be sure to fax it quickly to the BVA.
The report was released December 13th and it was hand delivered by U.S. Congressman Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) to the BVA the same day. On December 13th 2001, one week after the teleconference, the very first award for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Persian Gulf Veterans was approved. The veteran was rated 100% service connected for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis linked to his Persian Gulf service, with the date of issue being February 1999.
CHAPTER SEVEN DEPLETED URANIUM
When Anthony Principi resigned as Secretary of the VA many of the veterans leaders were baffled. Last year some articles were published which may be a reason he left. Preventive Psychiatry E-Newsletter charged February 2005 that the reason Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi stepped down earlier that month was the growing scandal surrounding the use of uranium munitions in the Iraq War ... The real reason for Mr. Principis departure was really never given, however a special report published by eminent scientist Leuren Moret naming depleted uranium as the definitive cause of the Gulf War Syndrome has fed a growing scandal about the continued use of uranium munitions by the US Military'.
Cutting Edge has long said that the misnomer, "Gulf War Syndrome" was merely a cover for Depleted Uranium Munitions. The Pentagon has stonewalled for years as to what really caused "Gulf War Syndrome"; however, now a scientist with credentials too impressive to ignore has published a report stating authoritatively that this so-called "Syndrome" is nothing other than Depleted Uranium poisoning! - Preventive Psychiatry E-Newsletter 2/28/05
On February 14, 1997 I made a presentation in a meeting with Jesse Brown, then Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The meeting was in Cleveland and it was a round table conference with 7 people chosen to offer testimony regarding Persian Gulf War issues. We were allowed 7 minutes each. I took 12 minutes with permission granted in advance. We were required to supply a copy of our presentation in advance. My presentation on Undiagnosed Illness was adopted by the Secretary as policy, word for word.
The Federal government has a policy of not addressing unusual health issues, until forced to by the public. Generally the public does not concern itself with these unusual issues. It is the veterans organizations who force these type issues. However that becomes another major problem. Veterans historically do not stick together very well. Already I hear a few Vietnam vets complaining of the Iraqi veterans being given priority. Back in the 1980's I heard Korean war and WWII veterans complaining about the attention the Vietnam veterans were getting regarding Agent Orange and PTSD. The Korean war veterans before that we all but forgotten.
It is my belief that we ALL owe it to each other to make absolute effort to bring all of the health issues to the forefront.
Now we are in 2006 and it is 15 years since Desert Storm with our troops still in Iraq and the Persian Gulf, the Agent Orange issues are still not resolved. We have hundreds of thousands of peripheral neuropathy victims denied because further studies have not been requested from the National Academy of Sciences by the VA. I testified to that fact July 8, 2004 before the NAS research committee. As a result of my testimony a slight change was made regarding diabetes descriptions.
The point being we need more veterans active in the veteran organizations and the leaders of those organization pushing the Federal government to fulfill their obligations to those returning home with unexplained illnesses and addressing them in a timely manner. Not after death takes so many it brings attention to the media.
From the World Health Organization 2005 report: Depleted uranium.
The uranium remaining after removal of the enriched fraction contains about 99.8% 238U, 0.2% 235U and 0.001% 234U by mass; this is referred to as depleted uranium or DU. The main difference between DU and natural uranium is that the former contains at least three times less 235U than the latter. DU, consequently, is weakly radioactive and a radiation dose from it would be about 60% of that from purified natural uranium with the same mass. The behavior of DU in the body is identical to that of natural uranium. Spent uranium fuel from nuclear reactors is sometimes reprocessed in plants for natural uranium enrichment. Some reactor-created radioisotopes can consequently contaminate the reprocessing equipment and the DU. Under these conditions another uranium isotope, 236U, may be present in the DU together with very small amounts of the transuranic elements plutonium, americium and neptunium and the fission product technetium-99. However, the additional radiation dose following intake of DU into the human body from these isotopes would be less than 1%.
Gulf War veterans returning from Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm display unusual levels of medical complaints that will be the subject of a research program at the Durham VA Medical Center. Three-year funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs is to start in January, 2006 with $180,000 to initiate animal studies into the possibility that prolonged exposure to chemicals such as pesticides and agents used to protect troops from chemical attacks might affect memory and learning. The research is also to explore possible drug therapies to reverse such problems. Meanwhile, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas would be designated a Gulf War illness research. The provision also requires VA to spend $75 million over the next five years on Gulf War illness research.
Just a thought, could it be...? Ol Dave was right in 97?