“My Life Basically Flipped Upside Down”
As alleged by Leisure and others, veterans’ conditions became “Gulf War Syndrome” instead of “Gulf War Illness.” Physically sick men and women were saddled with psychiatric labels, such as “post-traumatic stress disorder” and “post-combat fatigue.” (See “Drug ‘Treatments’ Exacerbate Problems”.)
But America’s surviving veterans carry on, despite the additional burdens imposed by physical difficulties and less-than-responsive VA ears — in a bureaucracy that appears to be dominated by psychiatric dollars and interests. (See “The Psychiatric ‘Funnel System’”.)
Gulf veterans’ advocates note that the physical problems afflict men and women in their prime who had passed stiff physical and medical examinations before entering battle. Today, even a cursory examination reveals how individual lives are different.
Lisa Porter, for example, told Freedom that as a result of Operation Desert Storm, “my life basically flipped upside down.” Accustomed to working 60 to 70 hours per week, plus another 20 hours weekly for assorted military duties, she said, “I’m lucky to put in 40 to 50 hours now.” Today, even with a limited work schedule, she said, “It’s pretty much work and rest, work and rest.”
Porter retired from the Army in 2000, noting that staying in until then “was really hard for me.”
Considering the many thousands of square miles encompassed in Persian Gulf operations, and the wide variety of exposures to a broad array of toxins — ranging from contaminated, untested vaccines and infectious insect bites to oil well fires and chemical/biological weapons — symptoms and intensity vary.
But regardless of variations in symptoms, veterans’ advocates such as Joyce Riley believe that if responsible Defense Department officials at the time had acted upon the first reports of possible exposure, the threat might have been resolved, and it is possible that many who died would still be alive today.
One family battling for survival is that of Staff Sergeant Bob Jones. Not only does Jones suffer from Gulf War Illness, his three children do, as well. His wife, Deborah, is reportedly dying from the disease. (See “A Family Battles for Survival”.)
Controlling Public Perception
The grassroots efforts of the Nicolsons and others to aid such people as Bob and Deborah Jones move forward in the teeth of resistance to the idea their illness might include a biological weapons factor.
As evidence of Gulf War Illness mounted, for example, in May 1994 then Chief of Staff John Shalikashvilli and then Defense Secretary William Perry issued a statement to news media: “There have been reports in the press of the possibility that some of you were exposed to biological weapons agents. There is no information, classified or unclassified, that indicates that chemical or biological weapons were used in the Persian Gulf.”
The Defense Department has since admitted that 100,752 troops were possibly exposed to chemical toxins when Iraqi bunkers and other facilities around Khamisiyah were blown up.19
Based on such information, and data to which he was privy while a CIA analyst, Patrick Eddington stated, “While it was clear to me that the majority of chemical warfare agent exposures among American troops were the result of our own actions (i.e., ‘chemical fratricide’), the eyewitness accounts and thus-far declassified data also made it clear that Iraq did indeed, on at least some occasions, use BCW [biological-chemical warfare] agents against American forces.”20
Yet it is evident that disinformation has continued. The Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses dashed veterans’ hopes when it “studied” Gulf War Illness for 28 months and whitewashed the matter, concluding in 1997 that “stress” was an important factor.
In May 2002, committee chairperson Lashof continued to hide the truth behind more smoke. “I think there is enough data that stress is a logical explanation” for Gulf War Illness, she told the Associated Press.21
Compounding problems for affected veterans is the loss of vital medical and other records by the VA and other entities. Notes Rep. Shays, “Most of the medical records needed to prove toxic causation are missing or destroyed, including three-quarters of the Gulf War Central Command’s Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) log entries.”22
Problems escalated as vets fell into the clutches of the psychiatric industry. As is a routine failing in psychiatric diagnosis, proper and full physical examinations were either not done or their results ignored. Tests were performed that added confusion, their results failing to describe any specific illness because the veterans had such a panoply of symptoms.
According to William Baumzweiger, M.D., Gulf veterans he examined while working at the VA from 1993 to 1997 exhibited conflicting and mutually exclusive symptoms. “Nobody asked how come they were showing so many contrary manifestations all at once,” he said. VA psychiatrists and other doctors, he said, “threw every diagnosis in the book at them, rather than get to the bottom of the problem,” adding that he believes that practice continues.
As a trained neurologist, he said, “I knew this didn’t fit, and I said so from 1994 on. I was told when at the VA center in West Los Angeles that it was VA policy that there was no such thing as Gulf War Syndrome. It came from the central VA in Washington. I was told [that] by Dr. Dean Norman, who was the head of the hospital. I told him I didn’t know that disease had anything to do with administrative policies. He got mad at me.... These are political positions. It isn’t real medicine.”
Baumzweiger was ousted from his job, acknowledging that some of his VA superiors were incensed at his actions on behalf of veterans, which included testifying in September 1996 before a House subcommittee chaired by Rep. Shays.
“They were so mad at me,” Baumzweiger said. “But I don’t care. I mean, what I was saying was true.... There were lives at stake. And these people really were sick. They were horribly sick. They still are.”
Norman failed to return calls made to his office.
According to Baumzweiger and others, the lives of many veterans fell apart as they suffered brain damage and other physical effects and became increasingly non-functional, undergoing divorce, losing jobs, turning to street drugs and alcohol, having accidents, being arrested, ending up in legal troubles and even prison or psychiatric institutions.
Arvid Brown was one of the many interviewed by Freedom who was told “it’s all in your head” when he turned to the VA for help. Cooperating at every step with VA doctors, he accepted and took the psychotropic drugs prescribed for him, including Depakote, Prozac and Elavil. After Brown became so disoriented that he tried to step out of an upper-story window and a moving car, Janyce took the pills away. He was put on Pamelor, which made him hallucinate.
“When we complained that the drugs were making him hallucinate,” said Janyce, “they upped the dose.” On another visit, a VA psychologist persisted in demanding that Brown be treated for anxiety before anything could be done for him.
Copies of medical records in Brown’s possession confirm an effort by VA doctors from the outset to label his symptoms “anxiety attacks” or “post-traumatic stress syndrome” — in other words, psychological in nature — and to pressure him into taking psychiatric drugs. Brown alleged that the VA lost some of his records and falsified others. And he was told that neither he, his wife nor his two children — born after his Gulf service with serious birth defects — would receive any treatment until he and his wife submitted to psychiatric examinations.
Arvid received chemotherapy treatments at a civilian hospital and continues to take antibiotics. Both he and Janyce believe their family’s multiple health problems stem from Arvid’s exposure to chemical and biological weapons and other toxins.
In Whose Closet Lies the Skeleton?
“I have always felt that there was a real cover-up of what happened to a whole lot of people in Saudi Arabia,” General David Irvine said. “And anything that anyone can do to bring light to that particular pile of dirt that has been swept under a rug so very carefully,
To admit that veterans were injured by chemical or biological warfare toxins in the Persian Gulf and that Gulf War Illness exists opens the door to treat sick veterans, affected family members and even the general public. As Kirt Love told Freedom, owning up to potential liabilities at this late date could bear stiff costs – “as much as $100 billion, if not more, all said and done, if everything was admitted to.”
Failure to do so, however, according to Freedom sources, will be even more costly — in terms of human life, continued suffering and spreading disease.
Steven F. Ayre contributed to this article.