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A Fire on the Cross
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Special Report

Lives in the balance When U.S. Army Captain Charles Hamden hugged and kissed his 4-year-old daugther upon returning from Operation Desert Storm, he little thought that by doing so he was sentencing her to years of pain, chronic fatigue, stunted growth, breathing problems and other symptoms loosely classified under the heading Gulf War Illness. But he now realizes that’s just what he did.

Gulf War Illness: Who is Covering it Up and Why

By Thomas G. Whittle

uring the Gulf War, Hamden served in the 101st Airborne Division as an artillery officer. For four days in late January 1991, the chemical and biological warfare (CBW) weapons alarms in his unit sounded continuously, according to Hamden. The soldiers took pills and vaccines to counteract the effects of CBW weapons, put on gas masks when the sirens sounded, but only donned full protective gear for one short period in those four days.

During his stint in the Gulf, Hamden suffered from severe diarrhea and observed many dead animals—both signs which indicate chemical or biological warfare attacks. It was only after he returned home, however, that he began to notice other ill effects, including searing headaches, frequent coughs, colds and sore throats, fatigue, rashes and pains in the joints and muscles.

Things went from bad to worse. “For a long time,” he said, “I wondered what I was doing wrong. I ate well and got enough rest, took vitamins, and still continued to get sicker and sicker.”

A runner and basketball player since his youth, Hamden found that with his health impaired, his lifestyle was seriously altered. Running, pushups and situps, once part of his normal routine, caused excruciating pain.

His wife, Julianne, became sick with similar symptoms, as did the Hamdens’ young daughter. Julianne suffered severe stomach pains and swelling so pronounced she appeared several months pregnant. Even the family’s cats were afflicted with rashes and bloated stomachs. Doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, headed by Colonel John Follansbee, a psychiatrist, labeled the condition “somatization,” meaning Hamden and his familyand apparently their petssupposedly had symptoms without a physical cause, exacerbated by “emotional anguish.”

The plight of the Hamdens is shared by thousands of other Gulf War veterans and their families. They have described a battery of symptoms that include headaches, disabling fatigue, memory loss, inability to concentrate, pains in joints and muscles, eye pain, blurred vision, blackouts, diarrhea, rashes, birth defects in offspring, chest and heart pain, problems in breathing, frequent coughing, dizziness, nausea, stomach pain, sleeping difficulties, chemical sensitivities and more.

The American people have, over the last five years, been systematically denied true information about Gulf War Illness. In its place, a calculated stream of disinformation has been supplied, colored by those who profit by labeling the illness a myth.

An Epidemic of Hysterical Baldness?

After receiving many such reports from veterans who had excellent health until their service in the Persian Gulf, including accounts of how their complaints were not being addressed by responsible government agencies, Freedom decided to investigate. Among the first we turned to were those who should know about the illness and its causes.

Some of the veterans interviewed had been examined by Dr. Raymond Chung at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Army’s pre-eminent facility for monitoring and treatment of the disease. As head of the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program for Desert Storm veterans afflicted by Gulf War Illness, he deals with the disease day in and day out. Yet Dr. Chung told Freedom, “We haven’t had any evidence of a Gulf War Illness.”

Ben Smith, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, said there was “no evidence so far” of Gulf War Illness, although he admitted there was “a bigger incidence of accidents among people who were in the Gulf.”

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Stephen Joseph stated, “I think without doubt, many of them would be suffering from the same symptoms that they are [if they had not gone to the Persian Gulf].”

And John Deutch, former deputy secretary of defense, currently Director of Central Intelligence, said, “[I] examined those instances where there are allegations of use or presence [of chemical and biological warfare agents], and it is my judgment at the present time that there has been no use or presence....”

The government’s denial of what common sense and logic make plain is one thing. No one can be expected to embrace a public relations land mine. More perplexing is the ready acceptance of the government’s denials by news media:

  • “The Army has concluded that ‘very high levels of stress’exacerbated by a fear of an Army cover-upwas the main reason why 125 Indiana Army reservists were stricken with hair loss and other unexplained symptoms following their service in the Persian Gulf War,” began a September 1992 article in The Houston Chronicle.

  • “The Defense Department ... said it found ‘no clinical evidence for a new or unique illness or syndrome among Persian Gulf veterans,’” read an Associated Press article in August 1995.

  • “There is no clinical evidence that the Gulf War caused a mysterious illness among U.S. troops, although one cannot be ruled out absolutely,” stated the lead sentence in an article from The Washington Post in January 1996.

Herb Smith
HERB SMITH: Before leaving the Persian Gulf, Colonel Herb Smith, a member of the Army’s elite Special Forces, could do 100 pushups in two minutes. After Smith’s health was destroyed by exposure to toxins during the Gulf War, a doctor at Walter Reed Army Medical Center tried to dismiss his physical symptoms by claiming they were psychiatric and then saying he was faking.

Popsicle Stick “Therapy” and “Work Hardening”

What certain “authorities” report, and what exist as physical symptoms experienced by veterans, diverge widely. Those suffering complain that their physical examinations are cursory at best, their conditions disparaged and minimized and, all too often, they are shunted off to a psychiatrist or psychologist, labeled as having “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” and given psychiatric drugs and “therapy.”

Such “therapy,” according to Julianne Hamden, a former military intelligence analyst with the National Security Agency, is demeaning to the veterans and often consists of simply “stoning them out on antidepressant drugs and watching them build popsicle stick houses.”

“They have them cutting out paper dolls and things that are really insulting,” another source said. “They ‘tranq’ the vets up so much they don’t care.”

Staff Sergeant Ken McCartney suffered a range of problems, including joint pains, migraines, intestinal disorders, memory loss and burning semen following his service in the Persian Gulf. “Nobody can say their health is perfect,” he told Freedom, “but I had no health problems whatsoever before the Gulf War.”

Seeking to come to grips with his Gulf-related physical difficulties, McCartney ultimately found himself sitting in a room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with other servicemen, listening to psychiatrist John Follansbee tell them the problem was all in their heads.

McCartney disagreed: “You know it’s not in your headbut they don’t want to hear that.”

As part of Walter Reed’s psychiatric “therapy” known as “work hardening,” each vet was required to go around the hospital carrying an orange ballroughly three times the size of a basketballover his head. “You walked out in the hall and everybody knew what you were doing,” McCartney said. A former serviceman branded the procedure “very degrading” and a “mockery” of the vets.

The American people have, over the last five years, been systematically denied true information about Gulf War Illness. In its place, a calculated stream of disinformation has been supplied, colored by those who profit by labeling the illness a myth.

“He Bleeds Himself”

Colonel Herb Smith enjoyed his career as a member of the Army’s elite Special Forcesthe Green Berets. Just two weeks before leaving for the Persian Gulf, he took the Special Forces’ rigorous physical training test and got a maximum score. He could do 100 pushups in two minutes.

While on duty in the Gulf, due to the scarcity of water, he had no shower for a 16-day stretch. He became so drenched in black chemical goo that he could not see the band of his wristwatch. The war for him was a nightmare; but it was after the Scuds stopped falling and the war ended that his own private hell began.

After he returned to the States, psychiatrists and others made little or nothing of the physical problems Colonel Smith manifested: blackouts, overwhelming fatigue, joint pains. The former model of strength and stamina who had once lectured on health issues for the Army could scarcely force out three pushups.

But Dr. Michael Roy of Walter Reed labeled him a faker. “Not only did he say my problems were psychiatric,” Colonel Smith told Freedom, “but he told other doctors they should be very careful of me because I was a sneak.” When a private physician asked Roy how Colonel Smith could fake anemia, Roy reportedly claimed, “Oh, he bleeds himself.”

Colonel Mike Williams, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer, was in Riyadh when attacks by Iraqi missiles began and exposed him, he believes, to a biological warfare agent. Colonel Williams undertook his own investigation and subsequently accused federal officials of allowing chemical and biological warfare substances to be shipped to Iraq from the United Statessubstances which he says were later used against American and allied forces.

Another Gulf War veteran, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Robert T. Wolfertz, attested to the use of Chemical and Biological Warfare weapons during the Gulf War. “In mid-February 1991,” he reported, “our regiment had assigned to it a state-of-the-art German vehicle designed to detect the presence of chemical/biological agents on the battlefield. During the ground offensive, this vehicle alerted us to the presence of chemical/biological agents on the battlefield around Al Jaber airfield south of Kuwait City. At least one of these reports is documented in the combat journals of the First Marine Division and Fourth Marine Regiment, as well as my personal journal of 25 February 1991.”

Colonel Wolfertz continued, “You can imagine my surprise three years later to receive a letter (dated 25 May 1994) cosigned by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, and Secretary of Defense William J. Perry stating, ‘There is no information, classified or unclassified, that indicates that chemical or biological weapons were used in the Persian Gulf.’ That statement is absolutely untrue.”

Lives in the balance continued...
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