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Gulf War Casualties Higher Than You Would Think

Author: Not Specified
Document Dated: February 12, 2003
Date Posted: February 19, 2003

Article Source:

(WCCO-TV) Twelve years ago we fought in Iraq, and completed the entire ground offensive in 100 hours. 157 soldiers were killed, but the number of sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen who are now listed as casualties of that war is higher than in any other modern war we've fought.

Casualty.   The Defense Department defines it as any person who is lost to the organization by having been declared dead, duty status - whereabouts unknown, missing, ill, or injured.

Most of us don't know how many casualties were suffered in the war with Iraq. 722,000 Americans fought in the 1991 war. The Gulf War Veterans Association lists 207,000 of those as casualties. The government says that number is high, but not by much.

Tom Boland is a Gulf War Veteran's advocate. A veteran of the 1991 conflict, he returned with symptoms. A mystery illness. He thinks the illness he suffered, and others are still suffering, was caused by a soup of drugs administered by the Defense Department to protect the fighters.

"A term, chemical mix comes to mind," says Boland. "A potpourri of different substances. Some the US government was saying we should take, and some were just the ambient conditions in which we existed."

There may be other causes. For five years the Pentagon denied or withheld from public scrutiny evidence that troops were exposed to chemical warfare agents.

Now The Defense Department admits some veterans were exposed to enemy gases and our own mix of medicines. Veterans Administration doctors are trying to sort out why these soldiers are sick.

"There certainly was an exposure to nerve gas at a bunker explosion," said Dr. Doug Peterson from the Veterans Administration Hospital. "Whether there were other exposures is not known. I mean, certainly, alarms did go off in more than one place."

Dr. Peterson treats Gulf War illness. It is called a syndrome because no one can figure out what is causing it&but there is no lack of possibilities.

"Serin Gas. Add the smoke, anti nerve agent pills. Some depleted uranium in the field. There was also the paints that were used for putting on the desert coatings on the vehicles."

The problem is, we dont know for sure whether or not any of that is true.

"We do not have the medical evidence, apparently, to support of any of this right now," says Boland. "Other than trying to find out causal agents, they are trying to find out what happened. But the best they can come up with is undiagnosed illness."

According to veterans groups, The Gulf War casualty rate is about 30%. One in three of the soldiers who served in Desert Storm/Desert Shield have filed claims with the VA. Theyre sick with a variety of symptoms.

And, according to Pentagon studies, Gulf War veterans are twice as likely to develop amyotropic lateral sclerosis, ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Other studies show they are more likely to suffer symptoms of Epstein Barr, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

Dr. Robert Orr, psychiatrist with the VA, says stress may explain some of it, but not all. But the further stress caused by simply not knowing what happened to you can cause harm.
"The patient wonders if it is all in their head," he says. "They may see it on their doctor's face, gee, do they think it's all in my head. We don't know the actual underlying cause of any of the complaints. But nevertheless that doesn't stop us from trying to do the best we can to try and treat them."

One of the reasons doctors and scientists can't figure out why so many Gulf War veterans are sick is because medical record keeping, for security reasons, was sloppy or intentionally vague. Medical records from the Gulf don't accurately report what drugs a soldier was given, what gases he or she was subjected to.

"I'm hoping that uh, the next time we do go to war we have more evidence available so that we can track these things better," says Dr. Peterson.

"So that we don't have the numbers come back again," says Boland. "With the same maladies, with the same disorders, with the same questions in their mind."

Theoretically, better medical records will be kept this time. Congress has ordered it. The Veterans Administration has granted 168,000 claims from the Gulf War. 3,000 of them for undiagnosed illness.

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