Veterans Groups Berate U.S. Biochemical Force Protection
- Veterans Groups Berate U.S. Biochemical Force ProtectionDave Eberhart, NewsMax.com
Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2002Editors note: This is the second in a series.Part one: Are We Ready for War?"Our protective gear gas masks and chemical suits were defectiveduring Gulf War round one, and it is the same this time around, DeniseNichols, vice chairman of the National Vietnam and Gulf War VeteransCoalition, tells NewsMax.com.Nichols adds: "The GAO [Government Accounting Office] did a study onours [chemical suits], and just last week testified to the Government ReformCommittee. Its the same story again!"Pray for our troops because that is more protective that their forceprotective gear.In that hearing, members of the House committee lamented over testimonyabout the possibility that troops heading for battle in Iraq may be issuedflawed chemical suits manufactured by a discredited contractor. Defenseofficials could not say for sure if the Department of Defense supply systemhad been purged of the defective suits, but believed the unaccounted-for1989 vintage suits were used for training and then discarded.However, Joseph Schmitz, the inspector general for the DoD, said that histeam just months ago "continued to identify units that have not segregatedthose defective over-garments from their inventories.
Unsafe From Any LotMeanwhile, some veterans advocates warn that, whether issued from adefective lot or not, the suits will not stand up to sustained battlefieldconditions in Iraq."Although DOD is fielding new NBC equipment, troops currently deployingare leaving with the same equipment troops deployed into Iraq 12 years ago,says Kirt P. Love, director of the Desert Storm Battle Registry and a GulfWar veteran."We headed to war with the same faulty M8 alarms that set off 14,000 falsealarms 12 years ago, while detecting [bio-chemical agents] at thousands-of-times lethal dose too late to do any good, Love warns."The masks do not have .5 sub-micron filtration needed for small pox oranthrax, and these mask are only good for sarin and not cyclosarin,mustard, ammonia-based products, or solvent-based products that dissolvethe rubber mask. These mask are only good for 20 to 30 minutes in acontaminated environment before the cartridges are overwhelmed."Love also advises, "Carbon-based porous overgarments [such as thoseused by our troops now] provide temporary resistance, but once the suitis removed from its protective plastic, its only good for 24 hours, regardlessof environment.He finds this shortcoming inconsistent with what many experts forecast asprotracted urban combat, perhaps even becoming hand-to-hand.
Repeating the Mistakes of Gulf War INichols and Love are just part of a growing army of veterans advocateswarning that some health-hazarding mistakes of the 1991 Gulf War seemabout to be repeated.Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War ResourcesCenter, is not at all happy with the state of affairs, as the U.S. stands poisedto once again invade the toxic land of Iraq. Among other things, he wantsspeedy implementation of the Force Health Protection Law.This law requires pre-deployment, during deployment and post-deploymentscreening of soldiers including serum collection and physical inspectionby a clinician.Robinson says that scrupulous implementation of the public law is imperativeto prevent U.S. troops from having to repeat the Gulf War I exercise of havingto fight their own government for years to get compensation for service-connected injury and illness:"So far, science has taken 11 years to understand the exposures that veteransof the last Gulf War faced. Science has absolutely shown that the illnessesGWS veterans face are not as a result of the stressors of war, but as a resultof exposures, unapproved vaccines, unapproved pills and a myriad of otherthings that have not yet been researched.Love agrees with Robinson and professes dissatisfaction with what he learnedduring a recent meeting with the Pentagons Deployment Health Support Directorate:"Special Forces would deploy with a database system to track health recordinformation of soldiers on classified missions. But collecting other medicalrecords of troops in Iraq was not high priority, Love says.
Insidious LessonMeanwhile, all the veterans advocates seem to be concerned aboutwhat they see as an insidious lesson to be drawn from fighting Saddamthe first time.As for 1991s Desert Storm operation, there remains to this day no hardevidence that the mad dictator fired any biochemical agents at allied forces.Yet the battlefield was still so toxic as to create frightening statistics aboutthe health consequences suffered by the U.S. troops that fought there.The advocates point to the latest Department of Veterans Affairs report onGulf War I personnel, including medical illnesses and deaths in the 11years since Operation Desert Storm.For instance, the Gulf Wars totals of 148 combat deaths, 145 non-combatfatalities and 213 wounded out of the 537,000 U.S. personnel who servedin the Persian Gulf region belies what has over the ensuing years evolvedinto a health crisis for Gulf War vets.The startling reality is that 36 percent (about 206,861) have filed medicalclaims with the VA for illnesses stemming from their Desert Storm service.(Note: a figure less than the 206,861 have to date been granted service-connected disability.)In historical context, the Korean conflict, which lasted years rather thandays, resulted in over 33,000 Americans killed in combat, and some10,000 dying as a result of wounds, disease and accidents. The combatwounded total was about 104,000.Despite that vast disparity in numbers between the two American wars,of the 2.3 million American veterans now receiving compensation, 172,600are Korean War-era veterans, a number only 13,000 more than the GulfWar veterans.Whats more, according to the VA report, a surprising 8,013 Gulf War Iveterans who served in the conflict have already died.Further attesting to the toxic nature of the last Gulf Wars battlefields, theVA report discloses that a large number of service personnel who weredeployed into the Persian Gulf region after the war ended on Feb. 28,1991, have also become ill.Nichols concluded recently in a column, "As we watch yet another groupof warriors prepare once more for war in the Gulf region, we know thatexisting force protection, medical care and reporting accountabilitydeficiencies have not been resolved.