On this past Mothers Day 2005 when we thanked our mothers for the concern they show their children, it may have been appropriate to express the concern of those who have sons, daughters or spouses who have been returned to them from Iraq/Afghanistan only to deal with the illegal, immoral and unethical use of and subsequent deadly health problems arrising from radioactive munitions in Bush's war on terror. This important topic needs to be exposed for the true problem it has become and the crisis it will continue to be in the future, for soldiers and civilians alike. As stated in this dated but timely article Weapons of Self-Destruction -- Is Gulf War syndrome - possibly caused by Pentagon ammunition - taking its toll on G.I.'s in Iraq? :
Even before Desert Storm, the Pentagon knew that D.U. was potentially hazardous. Before last year's Iraq invasion, it issued strict regulations designed to protect civilians, troops, and the environment after the use of D.U. But the Pentagon insists that there is little chance that these veterans' illnesses are caused by D.U.
The U.S. suffered only 167 fatal combat casualties in the first Gulf War. Since then, veterans have claimed pensions and health-care benefits at a record rate. The Veterans Administration reported this year that it was paying service-related disability pensions to 181,996 Gulf War veterans - almost a third of the total still living. Of these, 3,248 were being compensated for "undiagnosed illnesses." The Pentagon's spokesman, Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director of its Deployment Health section, says that Gulf War veterans are no less healthy than soldiers who were stationed elsewhere.
This article highlights the ordeal that Sgt Ramos has had to go through after serving in Gulf War 2.
A 20-year veteran of the New York National Guard, Ramos had been mobilized for active duty in Iraq in the spring of 2003. His unit, the 442nd Military Police company, arrived there on Easter, 10 days before President Bush's mission accomplished appearance on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. A tall, soft-spoken 40-year-old with four children, the youngest still an infant, Ramos was proud of his physique. In civilian life, he was a New York City cop. "I worked on a street narcotics team. It was very busy, with lots of overtime-very demanding." Now, rising unsteadily from his armchair in his thickly carpeted living room in Queens, New York, Ramos grimaces. "The shape I came back in, I cannot perform at that level. I've lost 40 pounds. I'm frail."
At first, as his unit patrolled the cities of Najaf and al-Diwaniyya, Ramos stayed healthy. But in June 2003, as temperatures climbed above 110 degrees, his unit was moved to a makeshift base in an abandoned railroad depot in Samawah, where some fierce tank battles had taken place. "When we first got there, I was a heat casualty, feeling very weak," Ramos says. He expected to recover quickly. Instead, he went rapidly downhill.
By the middle of August, when the 442nd was transferred to Babylon, Ramos says, the right side of his face and both of his hands were numb, and he had lost most of the strength in his grip. His fatigue was worse and his headaches had become migraines, frequently so severe "that I just couldn't function." His urine often contained blood, and even when it didn't he would feel a painful burning sensation, which "wouldn't subside when I finished." His upper body was covered by a rash that would open and weep when he scratched it. As he tells me this, he lifts his shirt to reveal a mass of pale, circular scars. He was also having respiratory difficulties. Later, he would develop sleep apnea, a dangerous condition in which he would stop breathing during sleep.
Sgt. Ramos is not alone in his misery. The following excerpt from the article is very disturbing if you or someone you know has served in the Gulf Wars.
Members of the 442nd have vivid memories of being exposed to D.U. Sergeant Hector Vega, a youthful-looking 48-year-old who in civilian life works in a building opposite Manhattan's Guggenheim Museum, says he now struggles with chest pains, heart palpitations, headaches, urinary problems, body tremors, and breathlessness-none of which he'd ever experienced before going to Iraq. He recalls the unit's base there: "There were burnt-out Iraqi tanks on flatbed trucks 100 yards from where we slept. It looked like our barracks had also been hit, with black soot on the walls. It was open to the elements, and dust was coming in all the time. When the wind blew, we were eating it, breathing it. It was everywhere." (The Department of Defense, or D.O.D., says that a team of specialists is conducting an occupational and environmental health survey in the area.)
Dr. Asaf Durakovic, 64, is a retired U.S. Army colonel and the former head of nuclear medicine at a veterans' hospital in Wilmington, Delaware. Dr. Durakovic reports finding D.U. in the urine of 18 out of 30 Desert Storm veterans, sometimes up to a decade after they were exposed, and in his view D.U. fragments are both a significant cause of Gulf War syndrome and a hazard to civilians for an indefinite period of time. He says that when he began to voice these fears inside the military he was first warned, then fired: he now operates from Toronto, Canada, at the independent Uranium Medical Research Centre.
In December 2003, Dr. Durakovic analyzed the urine of nine members of the 442nd. With funds supplied by the New York Daily News, which first published the results, Durakovic sent the samples to a laboratory in Germany that has some of the world's most advanced mass-spectrometry equipment. He concluded that Ramos, Vega, Sergeant Agustin Matos, and Corporal Anthony Yonnone were "internally contaminated by depleted uranium (D.U.) as a result of exposure through [the] respiratory pathway."
The Pentagon contests these findings. Dr. Kilpatrick says that, when the D.O.D. conducted its own tests, "our results [did] not mirror the results of Dr. Durakovic." "Background" sources, such as water, soil, and therefore food, frequently contain some uranium. The Pentagon insists that the 442nd soldiers' urinary uranium is "within normal dietary ranges," and that "it was not possible to distinguish D.U. from the background levels of natural uranium." The Pentagon says it has tested about 1,000 vets from the current conflict and found D.U. contamination in only five. Its critics insist this is because its equipment is too insensitive and its testing methods are hopelessly flawed.
This problem is only going to get worse and with a government that accepts no responsiblity for it's actions, hope is very limited that anything will be done in the short term. This is not just a problem that is Bush's responsibility but one that Democratic and Republican Administrations share over the last decade and a half. Bush is responsile for the continued use of the materials and the proliferation of non-provoked invasions of soverign contries. His lack of concern only underscores his right wingnut agenda and to hell with the cost in innocent lives, including those of our soldiers, coalition troops and iraqi civilians. With almost a third of all living Gulf War 1 veterans suffering disabilities, and the growing number of Gulf War 2 vets that are just now starting to suffer from these symptoms, this problem is only going to grow. With underfunded veteran programs that have suffered under the Bush Administration, the outlook for vets returning from Iraq now seems even more bleak. Pain, suffering and a leadership in a state of denial is all they have to look forward to. And "More of the Same".