As the United States ramps up for invading Iraq, we should know that we are sending our troops into the most toxic battlefield on earth. And should those soldiers suffer the huge number of disabilities that Gulf War I vets do, they can expect their government, in the words of U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), to have “a tin ear, a cold heart, and a closed mind.”

For 11 years, more than 100,000 Gulf War vets have complained of chronic fatigue, headaches, joint pain, memory loss, cancer, and birth defects. For 11 years the Department of Defense (DOD) has known the cause but systematically denied the disabilities were anything but psychosomatic.

But, layer by layer, the lies have come undone. A recent study in the British Medical Journal demonstrated that British Gulf vets were three times as likely to be disabled as all other vets.

The study is hardly a bolt from the blue. The Centers for Disease Control concluded back in 1995 that Gulf War vets suffered illnesses at 12 times the rate as non-Gulf War vets. The stonewalling started when young soldiers were inoculated with an experimental anthrax vaccine that included squalene, an additive with dangerous side effects. The DOD denies the vaccine included squalene, but a Tulane University Medical School study found squalene antibodies in 36 out of 38 Gulf vets suffering from Gulf War syndrome and a high incidence of similar disorders in vaccinated vets who never served in the Gulf. The DOD won’t release information on the vaccine because it is “classified.”

The Pentagon also maintained that none of our troops had been exposed to chemical weapons, in spite of the fact that Army logs indicated the presence of chemical weapons on Jan. 20, 1991. When Sen. Donald Riegle (D-MI) requested those logs, he was told they didn’t exist. Eight months later the logs were finally released-with most of the pages missing.

It was not until 1998 that the DOD admitted that as many as 130,000 troops (the vets claim more) were exposed to chemical weapons following the destruction of the Iraqi arms depot at Kamisiyah.

The DOD says it never said anything about the exposure because “scientific research and medical research do not indicate that this type of exposure is harmful,” according to Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Dian Lawhon

But the Army never researched the matter and ignored a 1974 Swedish study showing that small doses of chemical weapons did produce long-term effects. The tragedy here is that because the Pentagon lied, the vets’ complaints were dismissed. “Because doctors were told that chemicals had not been used, many veterans were sent straight to the psychiatric department,” said Paul Sullivan of the Gulf War Veterans of Georgia. By July 1995, some 95 percent of vets seeking disability had been turned away because doctors thought they were nut cases.

When research was done, it was ignored. A 1997 University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center study demonstrated that the interaction of nerve gas pills (another experimental and dangerous drugs given the troops), insecticides, and nerve gas produced a rare disorder called “organophosphate induced delayed polyneuropathy,” which is essentially Gulf War Syndrome.

With an invasion looming, this is hardly an academic issue. As Shaun Rusling, chair of the British National Gulf War Veterans and Families Association pointed out, “Our troops, who will be exposed to the same as we were 11 years ago, need to know that should they be ill or injured that they will get the best medical care and proper pensions.”

The track record on our side of the Atlantic suggests quite the opposite.

Conn Hallinan is an analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org)
For more information, visit: www.ips-dc.org


CONTRIBUTOR

Conn Hallinan
Conn Hallinan

Conn Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus. A retired journalism professor, he previously was an editor of People's World when it was a West Coast publication.

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