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Mystery illness hits Iraq troops

July 1, 1993

Another “mystery illness” has surfaced among U.S. forces in Iraq. The American Gulf War Veterans Association (AGWVA) is asking questions of the government.

The Defense Department, because of pressure from independent reporters, has been forced to disclose the illness and the deaths of some participants in Gulf War II. The department said at least 100 other soldiers have become ill with the disease.

Defense Department officials are now referring to the ailment as “pneumonia” in contrast to what a doctor on the scene had to say about it.

The department has had to send an investigative team to Iraq, but there are still no definitive answers, no diagnosis, no treatment and no compensation for victims.

The father of one 20-year-old GI, who died of this ailment, said his son had written him on June 26 that he was going on a confidential “hauling” mission. It was later learned that the soldier had been at one of Saddam’s palaces and that the mission he reported took place at Baghdad Airport. That was a site heavily impacted with depleted uranium during the invasion.

The young soldier was described as a former track star and non-smoker and completely healthy. He was so on June 26 when he left for the transport mission. By July 1, he was in a coma, and he died July 12.

The Defense Department, on July 1, classified the young GI as medically retired from the Army without his or his family’s consent. That freed the government from any assistance to the family.

They had no viable means of getting to Germany to visit their son as he lay in a coma. So all 650 members of his unit gave $10 apiece to get the family to the hospital.

While the family was at Landstuhl Hospital, the young man’s father observed about 55 other victims of the disease arriving on a military ambulance. Some could walk, some were in wheelchairs, and others were on respirators.

The father said he was told by a doctor that his son was suffering from a “toxin.” No one said anything about pneumonia.

AGWVA is questioning the diagnosis of this disease and the actual number of victims. They also want to know when the Defense Department first became aware of the problem.

Joyce Riley von Kliest, RN, the spokeswoman for the group, said AGWVA is demanding answers.

“We will not tolerate another whitewashing of a tragedy against our veterans,” von Kliest said. “It has happened too many times before with our failure to safeguard our troops, adequately diagnose and effectively treat the victims of Agent Orange spraying, Project Shad shipboard experimentation, and Gulf War I illness. This time someone has to be held accountable.”

She added: “Speaking out for our past and present sick veterans is the best way for Americans to support our troops.”

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