Photo illustration Loading depleted uranium shells onto an A-10 "Warthog"
Revised May 20, 2006
GIs, Beware Radioactive Showers! by Irving Wesley Hall
Bush’s impending, insane nuclear attack on Iran has provoked an unprecedented rebellion within the top leadership of the United States military. At the same time, depleted uranium (DU) is steadily taking down our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s time for the soldiers to follow the lead of their commanders in order to end the war.
Was Army Sgt. Michael Lee Tosto the first American victim of the Bush administration’s March 2003 “Shock and Awe” attack on Iraq? The 24-year-old North Carolina tank operator died “mysteriously” in Baghdad on June 17, 2003.
The Iraqi capital was saturated with radioactive dust from the initial explosions of 1,500 American bombs and missiles, many of them made from solid depleted uranium. After the saturation bombing, the city was the scene of street battles with M-1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and A-10 Warthog attack jets firing DU munitions.
The army told Sgt. Tosto’s family that he died from pulmonary edema and pericardial effusion, or cardiac failure, after showing flu-like symptoms.
Michael Tosto died, young and innocent, when they nuked him.
After Michael’s funeral, a fellow soldier contacted Michael’s wife Stephanie and told her that his buddy started coughing up blood and his lips turned blue and was dead within 48 hours after the first symptoms.
According to Tom Flocco, upon whose story this account is based,
“. . . the Tostos say their GI was in excellent health — in his prime of life. And Stephanie Tosto told United Press International, ‘When my husband died, the casualty officer asked me, “Is it possible that Michael had heart problems?” Michael did not have heart problems. One other time they asked me if he had asthma. He was never sick.’ ”
Inhaling depleted uranium causes pulmonary edema. Symptoms include bleeding lungs, bronchial pneumonia and vomited blood. Pericardial effusion is a common cause of death among leukemia patients. Michael’s mother, Janet Tosto, reported that military officials told her that her son Michael’s military autopsy exhibited elevated levels of white blood cells. Exposure to depleted uranium can cause lymphocytic leukemia.
Tom Flocco consulted Dr. Garth Nicolson of the Institute for Molecular Medicine in Huntington Beach, California who said, “Just one microscopic particle — let alone thousands — trapped in a soldier’s pulmonary system for one year can result in 272 times the annual whole body radiation dose permitted U.S. radiation workers.”
UPDATE: Oct. 15, 2006
Latest research by Elaine Hunter! You don't have to inhale or ingest depleted uranium for it to make you sick. Concentrated “depleted” uranium* munitions emit alpha + beta + gamma + x-rays + neutrons and wreak havoc in the human body while waiting to be used in battle! This helps explain rectal cancer cases among tank crewmen who sat on cases of depleted uranium ammunition. More, much more on ignored harmful effects of concentrated “depleted” uranium munitions. Click here to read more.
Gulf War Illness: the Sequel
It is happening again to a new generation of veterans. Some of today’s soldiers were in day care centers in 1991 when Dick Cheney first authorized the wholesale use of radioactive munitions. It is happening again despite the fact that nearly 300,000 Gulf War I veterans are on medical disability 15 years after the end of the first war against Saddam Hussein.
We are witnessing the same symptoms of radioactive poisoning today as began 15 years ago. We are hearing the same denial of reality from Donald Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense (DoD).
The government spokesman in Michael’s death claimed, “We don’t think depleted uranium has anything to do with it.”
After the publication of “Depleted Uranium For Dummies” last month, a reader emailed me with a demand. “You claim that almost a quarter million soldiers are sick because of the tons of depleted uranium used in 1991. I’d like to hear the government’s side of the story.”
Well, the Department of Defense’s estimate, as you might expect, is lower.
According to the Pentagon, depleted uranium hasn’t caused even one GI’s illness or a single veteran’s death.
Soon you might begin to doubt Condoleezza Rice’s warning about Saddam Hussein’s imminent nuclear attack on America or Dick Cheney’s claim that Hussein was responsible for taking down the Twin Towers. You might question why on 9/11 acting Commander-in-Chief Dick Cheney couldn’t find one available U.S. fighter jet to send aloft during the hour that, allegedly, nineteen Saudis and Egyptians with box cutters were crisscrossing the East Coast in hijacked commercial airliners!
These are the stories Sgt. Tosto took to his grave. But no one ever told him that the depleted uranium munitions packed into his tank could kill him.
That’s right. As far as the Department of Defense is concerned, depleted uranium is “40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium,” is “not a serious external radiation hazard,” and thus is not considered dangerous.
According to the military’s pamphlet, “Depleted Uranium Information for Clinicians” revised Sept. 17, 2004, a year and a half after Michael Tosto’s death, “Findings have shown no kidney damage, leukemia, bone or lung cancer, or other uranium-related adverse health outcomes.”
The Pentagon commissioned several studies in the ’90s as hundreds of thousands of Gulf War vets were becoming “mysteriously” sick. One published in 2000, concluded that DU “could pose a chemical hazard” but that Gulf War veterans “did not experience intakes high enough to affect their health.”
According to Pentagon spokesman Austin Camacho, the only soldiers meriting the military’s concern are those wounded by depleted uranium shrapnel or who were inside tanks during an explosion, and “studies of about 70 such cases from the first Gulf War showed no long-term health problems.”
This stupefying — vets call it criminal — DoD denial helps explain the military’s reaction to Michael Tosto’s death. They would not allow Stephanie Tosto to see her husband’s body until after the autopsy in Germany and after he was packed in a casket for burial.
Dan Tosto, the dead soldier’s father, wondered why Michael was wearing white gloves, appropriate for dress blues but not for Michael’s green burial uniform. At the funeral, Stephanie reached under a glove and found Michael’s wedding ring missing. The army later explained that the dead soldier’s belongings were possibly contaminated.
Wedding Ring Contaminated With What?
Perhaps the mysterious metal “contamination” explains why the Army sent the family brand-new dog tags, rather than Michael’s original set, and why they didn’t immediately call his wife at the emergency phone number he was carrying.
After the tank driver was buried, Stephanie received her husband’s medical records. They described his arms as red and swollen, classic signs of exposure to depleted uranium dust, but not symptoms of pneumonia.
Dr. Rosalie Bertell, secretary general of the International Commission of Health Professionals, and president of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, commented on Michael Tosto’s symptoms. She said that the armed services investigation was incomplete without a thorough “testing for potential depleted uranium [which] includes chemical analysis of uranium in urine, feces, blood and hair; tests of damage to kidneys, including analysis for protein, glucose and nonprotein nitrogen in urine; radioactivity counting; or more invasive tests such a surgical biopsy of lung or bone marrow.”
As you will read in a future installment, according to the DoD’s own Regulation No. 700-48, such tests are mandatory. Surprised? Wait until you read how the government responds to living contaminated soldiers who request tests for radiation poisoning.
We cited Dr. Doug Rokke in previous installments. He was the military’s top expert on all aspects of depleted uranium, until he was fired for telling the truth. He was the chief biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons safety officer in the first Gulf War, and he reports that most American deaths were from “friendly-fire” DU weapons.
The Tosto family will never know if this was Michael’s fate.
According to Gay Alcorn of The Age, “Rokke was ordered to decontaminate shot-up vehicles and tanks and to investigate health effects on troops. Dressed in protective gear and masks, he and his team crawled over tanks and other vehicles, sending some back to the U.S. Those considered too radioactive to move were buried in a giant hole in the ground.
“The U.S. Army made me their expert,” Rokke told reporter Julie Flint. “I went into the project with the total intent to ensure they could use uranium munitions in war, because I’m a warrior. What I saw as director of the project led me to one conclusion: Uranium munitions must be banned from the planet, for eternity, and medical care must be provided for everyone — those on the firing end and those on the receiving end.”
According to Flint, Rokke “suffers from serious health problems including brain lesions and lung and kidney damage. When government doctors finally agreed to test him in November 1994, three-and-a-half years after he fell ill, while he was director of the Pentagon’s Depleted Uranium Project, he was found to have 5,000 times the permissible level of radiation in his body — enough to light up a small village.”
Rokke’s crew — 100 employees — was devastated by exposure to the fine dust. “When we went to the Gulf, we were all really healthy,” Rokke said. “However, after performing clean-up operations in the desert. . .30 staff members died, and most others — including Rokke himself — developed serious health problems. Rokke now has reactive airway disease, neurological damage, cataracts and kidney problems.”
I conducted a telephone interview with Doug Rokke last month, after sending him “Dummies” to fact-check. He described the permanent rashes on his arms. “They’re weeping as we speak,” he said.
I recalled Michael Tosto’s autopsy report. What was hidden under the white gloves?
The papers Rokke wrote describing his findings are sobering. He recorded levels of contamination that were 15 times the Army’s permissible levels in tanks hit by DU, and up to 4.5 times such levels in clothing exposed to DU.
Rokke told Alcorn, “After everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve done, it became very clear to me that you just can’t take radioactive wastes from one nation and just throw it into another nation. It’s wrong. It’s simply wrong. . .
“One way or another, the Pentagon will pay a price. Using DU is a war crime. It’s that simple. Once you’ve scattered all this stuff around, and then refuse to clean it up, you’ve committed a war crime.”
According to Denise Nichols, a Gulf War vet and retired Air Force major, there are many reasons why Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense won’t admit that DU is harmful.
“They don’t want to assume responsibility for the astronomical health-care costs of so many poisoned veterans . . . and they don’t want the rest of the world to know that they have essentially poisoned two entire nations.”
If They Admit It’s Killing Our Troops, They Can’t Use It
Doug Rokke gave journalist Vince Guarisco another reason. “We warned the Department of Defense in 1991 after the Gulf War. Their arrogance is beyond comprehension. Once they acknowledge that there are actual health effects of depleted uranium munitions, then they can’t use them any more; the house of cards falls apart.”
Now, can you understand the DoD’s secrecy about the details of Michael Tosto’s death? Can you understand the strange silence last month of Maj. Richard J. McNorton, the U.S. Central Command’s special officer in charge of helping bloggers obtain accurate information? He is still ignoring my requests to confirm or to allow me to disprove the following account in “Dummies”:
“An official June 2005 United States Central Command communiqué reported that soldiers of the 62nd Quartermaster Company from Fort Hood, Texas were supplying Camp Forward Danger’s water from the Tigris River . . . it seems that it is not tested for radioactivity.
“Our men and women of the New York State National Guard have just spent six months taking radioactive showers and washing small open wounds in a depleted uranium broth. They’ve eaten more than 500 meals with food, plates, and silverware washed with hot water, in two senses of the word . . . without knowing it.”
Given the serious implications for my neighbors in the Rainbow Division, they expected a prompt response from McNorton. Not a word.
Does it still seem strange to you that the Pentagon maintains there were only 849 casualties (167 killed in action, 235 killed from non-combat causes and and 467 wounded) in Gulf War I?
Col. Gardiner suggested that the seven recently retired officers were being encouraged to speak out by those still in service. The brass is horrified by the military consequences of bringing Iran into a war we’ve already lost. Nothing like this level of resistance occurred even during the military’s darkest days when Nixon secretly invaded neighboring Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
It’s time for the troops to seize this brief opportunity to transform American history. Why? Let’s examine the price our brave citizen-soldiers are paying for the arrogance of the Bush Administration and Donald Rumsfeld’s DoD. In future installments we’ll show in detail what the troops in Iraq can do legally when we review the recent documentary, “Sir! No Sir!” It shows the critical role of Vietnam GIs in ending that earlier war of aggression against a people who posed no threat to the United States.
Last February, Juan Gonzales of the New York Daily News reported that “nearly 120,000 veterans — more than one of every four who served in Iraq and Afghanistan — have already sought treatment at Veterans Health Administration hospitals for a wide range of illnesses, according to an internal study the VHA completed late last year.
“An additional 35,000 — more than 29% of the total — were diagnosed with ‘ill-defined conditions, ’ according to the study, which was prepared in October by VHA epidemiologist Dr. Han Kang but has yet to be publicly released.”
“‘Those numbers are way higher than during the Persian Gulf War for ‘ill-defined’ symptoms, ’” said one Department of Veterans Affairs official who asked not to be identified.”
As we detailed in “Dummies,” depleted uranium contamination causes virtually every known illness from acute skin rashes, severe headaches, muscle and joint pain, and general fatigue, to major birth defects, liver infection, kidney failure, depression, cardiovascular disease, brain tumors, and almost every type of cancer.
In fact, the figure of 35,000 sick vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with “ill-defined conditions” may be too low.
Gonzalez reported that, “more than 30% of those sick veterans are afflicted with some type of mental disorder, mostly post-traumatic stress and depression . . . a far higher rate of mental problems among our troops than during the Persian Gulf War, and levels comparable to what was found among U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.”
Two previous military studies of combat troops in Iraq found that 17% to 25% of U.S. soldiers suffer from major depression or combat stress.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as a debilitating change in the brain’s chemistry that includes flashbacks, sleep disorders, panic attacks, acute anxiety, emotional numbness and violent outbursts. Dozens of soldiers have committed suicide or murdered their spouses.
Can PTSD, in some cases, be another phrase for Gulf War Illness?
Sara Flounders reported in August 2003, shortly after Michael Tosto’s death, “For years the government described Gulf War Syndrome as a post-traumatic stress disorder. It was labeled a psychological problem or simply dismissed as mysterious unrelated ailments. In this same way the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration treated the health problems of Vietnam vets suffering from Agent Orange poisoning.”
Dr. Leuren Moret reports that a medical doctor in Northern California told her that he and other doctors, trained by the Pentagon before the 2003 war, were advised to diagnose and treat soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq for mental problems only.
What’s Going To Happen To All These Sick Vets?
How can so many get the specialized care they need? The half million Gulf War vets who are already on medical disability have never received adequate care from the VA.
Paul Rieckhoff is a former lieutenant with the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq and founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Juan Gonzalez quoted him as saying, “With numbers this high, the problem is going to grow fast. We’re seeing systemwide there are major problems. Most local VAs [Veterans Administration centers] just aren’t prepared for the influx of sick veterans.”
In February, the U.S. General Accountability Office reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs “does not have sufficient capacity to meet the needs of new combat veterans while still providing for veterans of past wars.”
What’s worse is that, since 1998, veterans are eligible for free health care only for the first two years after being demobilized. After that, an ailing veteran has to prove his or her illness is service-connected. In future installment we’ll describe what that burden has meant to ailing Iraq vets.
Medical professionals in hospitals and facilities treating returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan have been threatened with $10,000 fines and jail if they talk about the soldiers or their medical problems.
Reporters have been prevented access to more than 14,000 medically evacuated soldiers flown nightly from Germany to Walter Reed Hospital near Washington, D.C. What is the DoD hiding?
As you know from reading “Depleted Uranium For Dummies,” all of us may eventually become victims of Bush’s “Shock and Awe” campaign against the Iraqi people, because the radioactive fallout has already permeated the world’s atmosphere. We reported the February findings of Dr. Chris Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, who was able to obtain official U.K. readings of the astounding spike in European radiation levels after the massive bombings in Iraq.
Depleted uranium particles traveled 2,400 miles in nine days from Iraq to Aldermaston, England. The invisible cloud quadrupled Europe’s atmospheric radiation. According to Dr. Busby, “This research shows that rather than remaining near the target, as claimed by the military, depleted uranium weapons contaminate both locals and whole populations hundreds to thousands of miles away.”
Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld’s “time-release poison” from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took only a year to mix completely into the world’s atmosphere. Take a deep breath, and recall your initial reaction to the stunning TV images of a city of five million people engulfed in a firestorm, with mushroom-shaped clouds of radioactive debris illuminating the skyline. Take a minute to check on your kids playing outside the window in he fresh spring air.
One paragraph of that paper stated: “First, the used amount of radioactive atoms
of DU weapons dispersed into environment in the real wars was far beyond that of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is estimated that in the First Gulf War, 320 to 800 tons of DU were used, scattering indeed 14,000 to 36,000 times more radiation than in Hiroshima. In the recent wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq, at least 500 tons of DU shells were said to be dropped.”
Since then, it has been widely reported that Dr. Yagasaki said that the amount of DU used since the first Gulf War in 1991 is equivalent to the number of radioative atoms (the “atomicity”) that would be released by 400,000 Nagasaki bombs. Several other researchers report that Yagasaki said that 800 tons of DU is equivalent to 83,000 Nagasaki bombs. As you can see above, that is not what Dr. Yagasaki said in his formal presentation, although we aren’t ruling out the possibility that he modified his comparison in interviews or an informal presentation.
In changing the comparison from the Hiroshima bomb to the Nagasaki bomb, the comparative atomicity would indeed rise becasue the Nagasaki bomb, although it released much more energy, used far less fissionable material (plutonium) than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which used highly enriched uranium in a much less efficient design. One can arrive at the equivalency of 800 tons of DU to 83,000 Nagasaki bombs, using Dr. Yagasaki’s published figures, by assuming (correctly or incorrectly) that the Nagasaki bomb released 2.3 times fewer radioactive atoms than the Hiroshima bomb. And using this equation — 800 T. DU = 83,000 Nagasaki bombs — one can arrive at the statement that the amount of DU used since the first Gulf War in 1991 is equivalent to the "atomicity" that would be released by 400,000 Nagasaki bombs only by using the high estimate of 4,000 tons of DU among the published reports of the amount of DU munitions used since the beginning of Gulf War I.
Better to stick with Dr. Yagasaki’s original comparison. Not as astonishing, but still pretty impressive.
But what, exactly, does it mean, since the damage caused by DU shells pales compared with the death and destruction caused by the two nuclear attacks on Japan? Dr. Yagasaki’s comparison may be rhetorically powerful, but it is, scientifically, hyperbole, especially in the form it has been repeated across the Internet. That is why we have removed it from the text of our article, replacing it with this explanatory box.
Dr. Dan Bishop, a former Colorado State University chemistry professor leading the International Depleted Uranium Study Team, put it very well in a recent article:
“Unfortunately, the comparison between DU contamination and the Nagasaki atom bomb explosion is very misleading. Over 100,000 residents of Nagasaki were killed in the atomic blast, either instantly or shortly afterwards due to exposure to the intense radiation, which included neutrons as well as alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Over 18,000 buildings were destroyed. Comparing the atomic bomb blast and its effects to those of depleted uranium is dramatic and delivers a strong emotional appeal, but the comparison based on number of radioactive particles released (atomicity) is quite meaningless.
“Secondly, no effort is made to qualify the different types of ‘atomicity’ involved. The U-238 atoms in that 392 tons of DU have a half-life of 4.5 billion years. In other words, their radioactive decay is spread out over such a long period of time that only half of them will have decayed by the time this Earth comes to its end in the Sun’s expanding corona. On the other hand, the majority of radioactive atoms dispersed over Nagasaki had much shorter half- lives. Many are essentially no longer radioactive, having progressed through 25 or 30 half-lives since 1945. But remember, the shorter the half-life, the more intense the radiation. Thus the Nagasaki victims who survived the initial blast were exposed to much more radiation in a very short period of time than the civilians in Iraq who have been exposed to depleted uranium, while the problem facing civilians where DU has been used is long term (read ‘forever’) and chronic.”
In fairness to Yagasaki, the comparison between DU and the atom bomb was only one paragraph of his very informative 2003 paper, which also noted: “ . . . while most of the radiation released by the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had very short half-life periods, DU has an extremely long half-life of 4.5 billion years. Dose amount of DU will last in the same level . . . even after tens of thousands years. Residents in the DU-affected area will have to live forever, for generations to generations, under threat of radiation. Humankind has never experienced such horrible damage of war. Any radioactive weapons, as well as nuclear weapons, must never be allowed to (be used).”
U.K. environmental scientist Busby was quoted as saying, “To my mind, it’s a human rights issue. Originally, it was an issue relating to whether or not it should be used in Iraq and if the population of Iraq is being contaminated and possibly the Gulf War veterans being contaminated, but now we are seeing that everybody is being contaminated. We are all Gulf War veterans.”
Soldier Says Bush Worse Than Bin Laden
Veterans and soldiers have been contacting “Over the Rainbow” after we guaranteed anonymity. A soldier serving in Iraq, already showing the symptoms of Gulf War Illness, expressed his bitterness.
“I came over here thinking I was fighting to protect our freedoms. It was all bullshit. I’m sick and probably dying. I want to come home. But, that’s really scary because I’m contagious. If I come home I’ll give this shit to my wife and kids.
“This was a suicide mission for all of us. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the bunch of them are no better than Osama bin Laden and those sleezebags. The government took patriots and turned us into terrorists.
“It’s just like Osama bin Laden and 9/11. They sent us over here on a suicide mission to murder innocent people.
“Actually our government is worse than bin Laden. At least when a car bomber volunteers, they tell the guy the truth. He knows he will die quickly and painlessly. When he’s blown to bits, he knows his people will take care of his wife and kids.
“Nobody told me I was volunteering to be nuked by DU. The recruiter never said I was going die slowly and painfully. And when I’m dead they’ll dump on my family just like they’re dumping on the people over here.”
The soldier asked if I had heard from public relations officer, Maj. Richard J. McNorton, about the radioactive showers at Camp Forward Danger.
I wonder if the major thinks he lives a charmed life. He’s sucking up depleted uranium particles from Iraq whether he’s stationed downwind in CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar or across the Atlantic in Florida. Right now GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan are hunkered down as Cheney’s bloody adventure collapses around them. Our men and women are primarily concerned about looking out for each other. Who is McNorton looking out for?
Obviously Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wants to keep depleted uranium and the radioactive showers a secret from the officers and troops. If the Jews of Europe had known the Nazi shower rooms were poison gas chambers, it would have been much harder to get them to board the trains.
DU must be the stuff of nightmares for Bush, Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Rumsfeld. Can you imagine the four of them trying to corral United States Army, Reserves and National Guard troops into transport planes bound for Iraq after they find out about depleted uranium?
May 20, 2006
The Deadly Cover-up
All of the installments of Over the Rainbow have been updated with the United States government’s latest available statistics on the total number of Gulf War vets who are deceased or receiving medical disability. Some explanation is necessary on the discrepancy between these and previous figures.
President Dwight Eisenhower, in his 1961 Farewell Address, warned the nation of the dangers to democracy posed by the “military-industrial complex.” Along with the nuclear industry these profiteers of death exert a stranglehold over government through bipartisan political contributions and the revolving door that connects military retirees, elected officials, and the warfare and nuclear industries.
These forces were responsible for the 15-year cover-up of Gulf War Illness, the government’s denial of the lethality of depleted uranium, and the concealment from those serving in uniform of the regulations designed to protect them from radiation in battle zones.
This story has been reported by Seymour Hersh in “Against All Enemies, Gulf War Syndrome: The War Between America’s Ailing Veterans and Their Government” and by former CIA analyst Patrick Eddington in “Gassed in the Gulf, The Inside Story of the Pentagon-CIA cover-up of Gulf War Syndrome.”
The Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Administration (VA) have been hiding or “cooking” disability statistics since 1991 in order to stonewall ailing veterans and to confuse the public. These policies, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, account for the wildly varying statistics and estimates of veterans suffering from radioactive poisoning.
After the posting of “Depleted Uranium For Dummies” two researchers — Steve Southwell, a Gulf War era veteran from Texas, and Bruce Henderson, a journalist and researcher in Florida — volunteered to try to track down and fact check the total number of Gulf War troops suffering from Gulf War Illness and the number of families and children affected.
Only the DoD and VA possess the power and resources to compile these figures. They have always refused to do so accurately, and their cover-up now extends to those sick vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
For example we cited figures in GIs, Beware Radioactive Showers! that were obtained last February by New York Daily News reporter Juan Gonzales, including the facts that “nearly 120,000 veterans — more than one of every four who served in Iraq and Afghanistan — have already sought treatment at Veterans Health Administration hospitals for a wide range of illnesses [and] an additional 35,000 — more than 29% of the total — were diagnosed with ‘ill-defined conditions. . .” — that is, symptoms of Gulf War Illness. We also reported that the government sometimes diagnoses radiation poisoning as PTSD.
But the source, an October VHA report, has still not been released.
This month the Washington Post reported a General Accounting Office study that showed that “only 22 percent of [Iraq and Afghanistan] service members identified as at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on a post-deployment questionnaire were referred for a mental health examination. ”
The DoD did not dispute the GAO’s findings, but claimed that some of the remaining 78% must have gotten help elsewhere. “Many of these people got help,” a military spokesman said. “Probably most. We don’t know the exact number, and neither does the GAO.”
In this environment of artful evasion and deliberate obfuscation we relied on the best statistics we could find. In the first installment we wrote, “518,739 Gulf War era vets are now receiving medical disability according to government figures. That’s more than 70 percent of all Army, Navy and Air Force veterans, even though not all the disabled served in the Middle East.”
The source was a named government spokesman, and he may very well have been accurate. No one ever disputed our figure, and our researchers could not find better statistics until after the series began, when we discovered a newly posted official Veterans Affairs quarterly Gulf War Veterans Information System (GWVIS) report for February 2006. At the same time, we also obtained from a VA Web site and other sources, a copy of the November 2005 GWVIS report. A search of the VA Web site a few days later revealed that the 2005 report is no longer available online from the VA, while the February report still is.
The VA is supposed to issue these reports quarterly in February, May, August and November. Perhaps the VA is keeping only the most current report online. Perhaps the reports are posted only sporadically and haphazardly. We don’t know and haven’t been able to find out. An archive, of course, would meet the VA’s legal obligation and be useful to compare statistics month-to-month and to analyze trends. We found the November and February reports simultaneously, and could not find the November, or any other quarterly GWVIS report or other official statistics on Gulf War Illness later than 2003, in several months of searching for statistics.
In another sign that the VA and Pentagon are playing games with its statistics, we discovered that the Web addresses given in various reports and publications for accessing statistics on Gulf War veterans often prove to be bad links, and that the access page addresses are changed without notice or forwarding links.
There are two explanations: total incompetence or deliberate obfuscation.
The February 2006 report shows that of the 696,841 U.S. military personnel who were deployed in Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm between Aug. 2, 1990, and July 31, 1991, 11,910 have since died and 260,209 have filed claims for benefits. Of those, 198,951 claims have been granted as service connected, and 31,696 claims are pending.
Another 3,742 veterans of the 432,498 service members who were deployed in the Persian Gulf after July 31, 1991, have died, with 92,789 of this group of military personnel being granted service-connected veterans claims.
In percentages, at least 30.3% of those veterans deployed during the first Gulf War are either dead or have been granted service-connected disability claims, while at least 22.3% of those deployed to the Persian Gulf region after the end of the conflict are either dead or have been granted service-connected claims. By comparison, only 16.3 percent of the 5,336,917 Gulf War-era service members not deployed to the Persian Gulf have died or have been granted claims. Of the total of 1,229,339 veterans deployed to the, likely irradiated, region during and after the conflict, at least 27.2% have either died or have been granted service-connected claims.
It should be noted that not all those veterans whose claims have been granted are receiving disability benefits or pensions, because the VA generally gives benefits only to those classified as being 10% or more disabled (229,261 veterans deployed in the Gulf area). However, several thousand veterans, have been granted benefits or pensions despite being rated as being less than 10% disabled, while another several thousand veterans have been denied benefits even though their level of disability is rated as 10% or greater. According to the VA, of the 291,740 Gulf veterans granted service-connected claims, only 226,503 are actually receiving benefits or pensions.
These figures are certainly gross underestimates, but they are the best ones available, so we use the conservative figure of a 30.3%, or simply “more than 30%” death/disability rate throughout the series. Obviously, this figure is much higher than previous modern conflicts, especially when only 147 U.S. troops were killed in battle, mostly by “friendly fire,” 235 more were killed as a result of “non-hostile” causes, and 467 service members were wounded, again many by “friendly fire.”
The government refuses to break down its figures into the types of disabilities or causes of death. Neither the DoD nor the VA keeps track of the illnesses of spouses contracted from contagious veterans. No records are kept of the number of children with birth defects born to veterans with Gulf War Illness symptoms.
Several Gulf War Veterans organizations are attempting to fill the deliberate governmental void, but obviously the lack of resources and access to all veterans and reliable public records will render their work sadly incomplete.
We confronted similar problems with the amount of tonnage of depleted uranium used in the various battle zones since 1991. The government’s mendacity continues today, with some official spokesmen denying that depleted uranium is being used, while official documents reveal current multi-million dollar contracts for depleted uranium munitions. Therefore, in Over the Rainbow we either cite the minimal amount that the government admits or we present the range of estimates by non-governmental experts.
We will continue to work diligently to insure that this Web site is a reliable source of information on depleted uranium and its toll on humanity. We mean it when we promise, “We value truth for its own sake. We cite our sources, and we admit when we’re wrong.”