Gulf War Illness II
One of the most hypocritical aspects of this war has been the 'support our troops' line thrown out by the Government and some sections of the media, which they have used to try and silence criticism. In actual fact they have shown an extreme disregard for the welfare of the British and US troops and their families by again exposing them to DU.
There is a schizophrenia in official policy which says they instruct troops to follow strict precautions when handling DU weapons or working in areas exposed to high levels of DU contamination while at the same time insisting they do not present a health problem and that troops have nothing to worry about.
The shots shown on TV of soldiers and journalists filming around burnt out tanks shows that basic safety precautions in battlefields are still not being taken. Moreover many incidences of 'friendly fire' have been recorded, in which soldiers who escape alive will face unnecessary long-term health risks after being in one of the most intensive exposure situations possible.
The Pentagon claims that it has put monitoring procedures in place after the first Gulf War that allows them to "have a better baseline of information when people are deployed that tells us about their health, better surveillance in the field, and collection of information in a more disciplined way to look at people after they return". "We have learned many lessons over the last decade," Dr. William Winkenwerder the Assistant Secretary of Defence for health affairs at the Pentagon said.
This was meant to have prevented the type of confusion that has resulted in the fudging of results of studies into Gulf War Illness among veterans of the 1991 attacks. However it was admitted in the House on March 25th that the Pentagon was not taking the blood samples needed to follow Public Law 105-85 but was just asking troops to fill in a questionnaire. Rep. Chris Shays, who held the hearing, told military officials they were "not meeting" the letter or spirit of the law. Denise Nichols, a retired Air Force Major and nurse, who served in Desert Storm and is now vice-chairman of the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition testified: "I hope that when the soldiers return the standard tactic of blaming PTSD [Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder] or stress will never be allowed to block soldiers from getting fast answers to what is happening to their health."
According to newspaper reports the British Government, stung by criticism from the Royal Society, has agreed to testing of British troops for DU on their return. Testing for DU has always been controversial as widespread testing of sick veterans from the 1991 war has never occurred and some scientists say the tests the Government has proposed using are inaccurate and incapable of distinguishing DU from other uranium types.
At CADU we are certainly going to be monitoring the Government carefully to see if and how they fulfil their promise. The Green party in Australia has also called for testing of returning Australian troops. The US meanwhile has said it will not test its troops. Tellingly the top Bush administration official responsible for war veterans, Anthony Principi, the secretary of veterans' affairs, has appealed to Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, for more information on potential heath risks in Iraq and access to troop test results. This shows the deep unease in some parts of the US Government that they will be landed with Gulf War Illness II. And of course the clock is ticking The Royal Society report on DU found that those with heavy exposure could die within days from kidney damage; how many have died from DU already that we will never know about?
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Page last updated: January 28, 2003