U.S. troops showing illness

The first cases of illness from the war on Iraq already are occurring among U.S. troops, according to a former Army doctor. Troops in Iraq have been exposed to battlefield hazards associated with Gulf War Syndrome, a collection of sicknesses already afflicting a quarter-million veterans of the first Gulf war.

Part of the risk is greater exposure to battlefield byproducts of depleted uranium munitions used in combat. A new accumulation has been added to the already existing residue of the 1991 fighting.

“People are sick over there already,” said Dr. Doug Rokke, a former director of the U.S. Army’s depleted uranium project. “It’s not just uranium. You’ve got all the complex organics and inorganics (compounds) that are released in those fires and detonations. And they’re sucking this in…You’ve got the whole toxic wasteland,” he said.

Efforts to determine potential health effects are being undermined by the Pentagon’s failure to carry out baseline medical screening of the troops before and after deployment. Failure to comply with the 1997 law requiring the screenings was admitted in hearings before the U.S. House on March 25.

Rokke said our troops have been fighting on land polluted with chemical, biological and radioactive weapons residue from the first war there and its aftermath. Troops additionally have been exposed to sandstorms, oil fires and waste from uranium-containing weapons fired by aircraft, tanks, missiles and machineguns.

“That’s why people started getting sick right away, when they started going in months ago with respiratory, diarrhea and rashes, horrible skin conditions,” Rokke said. “That’s coming back on them, and they have been treating them at various medical facilities. And one of the doctors at one of the major Army medical facilities—he and I talk almost every day—and he is madder than hell,” Rokke said.

As of May 2002, some 221,000 Gulf War I vets were on medical disability, and another 56,000 were seeking that status.

The 1997 law requires every soldier to receive a physical and blood draw before and after deployment. Pentagon officials said they decided instead to use a questionnaire.

Former military officials say terming the post-war ailments as post-traumatic stress syndrome may again mask the true nature of the illnesses.

The White House dismisses all these claims. It issued a report on March 18 and, among other things, attacked the assertion that depleted uranium from Operation Desert Storm has caused higher disease rates among Iraqi citizens. The White House said such claims are part of “Saddam’s disinformation and propaganda” campaign.

The World Health Organization said cancer rates among Iraqi children have risen several hundred percent since the initial use of depleted uranium weapons in the first Gulf war.

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