From the November 1998 Idaho Observer:
Gulf War Illness
There is the politics of Gulf War Illness where dedicated people struggle to find the truth. There is the cover up of Gulf War Illness where government people struggle to hide the truth. Then there is the truth: Soldiers and their families are sick and dying from service-related exposures to a cocktail of Desert Storm contagions. The truth is that "your" government would rather our infected sons and daughters die horrible, agonizing deaths than admit responsibility for them. "Your" government would rather spend money on another war than spend money to heal casualties from the pervious one.
To those who care to understand:
Debra Smith of Lewiston is the wife of a once healthy, strong Marine who returned from the Gulf War with increasingly dehabilitating illnesses that are unquestionably the result of his service to his country while deployed in "Saddam's Sandbox.."
In the last eight years the federal government's denials, stonewalling, lying mishandling (loss, destruction) of critical records and other evidence has transformed Smith from the trusting, hopeful, gung-ho wife of a U.S. Marine into one of this nation's most influential and active Gulf War veterans' advocates.
Eight short years ago, Smith wrapped her home in American flags and yellow ribbons when her husband went off to fight for his country. Stripped of her innocence and faith in her government, Smith is now, from front-line experience, intimately aware of something that should strike fear in the hearts of every American: The only honor that remains in our beloved country is the honor contained within the hearts of its citizens.
The federal government's post-Gulf War policy (the lies, the denials, the lost and destroyed records, the insistence that GWI is psychological) regarding its treatment of the very men and women who were willing to die for their country, has proven that it is completely devoid of anything that resembles honor.
Think about it. The only honor that remains in what was once the greatest country in the history of the world is kept in the hearts of its people because "our" government has demonstrated over and over again that is has no honor and it has no shame and it has no conscience.
Smith had just returned from a September 18-21 GWI conference in Washington D.C. (her report can be found in the October, 1998, edition of The Idaho Observer) and I challenged her to relate her personal impressions and observations of what she witnessed and experienced at the four-day event.
Although she did not give the editor what he asked for, Smith gave all of us who care something more. She gave us insight into what happens in the mind of a human being, a wife, a mother, an American, who is forced to do battle with her own government.
And the battle continues. For all of us. May God bless your efforts, Deb. I, for one, appreciate what you are trying to do for the men and women who were willing to die for their country. ~(DWH)
PS_For all of you who care to understand, "your" government has spent the last eight years doing everything in its nearly immesurable power to cover up its role in the widespread exposure of American service personnel to chemicals, biologicals and experimental vaccines during the Gulf War. According to Title 50, Chapter 32, Section 1524 of the U.S. Code, it is "legal" for the Department of Defense and its contractors to experiment upon the unsuspecting American public with chemical and biological weapons.
Is all of this cover-up being orchestrated by a federal government which feels that what it did to 500,000 Gulf War soldiers is perfecly "legal" under U.S. Code, but that it cannot come right out and honestly inform the American public that, in legal contemplation, the American public is entirely comprised of lab rats because people might get a little angry? Or, is it that Americans are just dying for matrial law?
Tired or not, the battle goes on
by Debra Smith
I am tired. The battles have gone on for five years and I have suffered for it. Recent victories have given me a respite and time to reflect. And time to feel.
Over the years I have put aside emotions as they clouded my focus as well as my mind.
One of the strongest emotions came early in the battle as I sat in an area VA hospital with my husband. I looked out of a window in the early evening and beheld the United States flag flying in the breeze. The golden colors of sunset draped the vision in surreal beauty.
My eyes wandered to the room across the hall to an elderly gentleman. In the three hours I had been in that wing, not once had anybody checked in on him. Here lies a man attached to machines, alone and obviously uncared for, I was thinking at the time. I did not see a frail body of a man, but the pride of a soldier. As I gazed back at the flag, I felt shame. Shame for a country that treats its soldiers as disposable commodities.
The emotion of anger became a controlled fire when I read a report about myself that was contained within my husband's VA medical records.
Sometime earlier I had found my husband collapsed and in pain. I called the VA hospital for advice. When I was told to bring him to the VA hospital, I refused and sought permission to seek medical treatment from a local facility.
I was told the VA would not honor the charges if I did so. My husband's concern for mounting medical bills overrode the sensibility of seeking medical treatment.
A few months later while dissecting my husband's medical records I found an entry about my phone call to them and how I had hysterically cried and feared that my husband was dying. Yes, I may have been hysterical, and yes, I did believe he was dying. I vowed at that moment that I would NEVER be labeled hysterical again. Hysteria had weakened my credibility.
The anger that burned in me became the fuel that would (and still does) drive me.
I have wept a lifetime of tears since Gulf War Illnesses entered my life. Sorrow is a daily emotion for me. I love a man among men. A former Marine. But his life was changed by a war. As I have watched his health decline I have felt such grief because I am unable to fix his injuries. I am helpless. My pride of his service to his country is immeasurable. His moral fiber is that of the Marine Corps motto, 'Semper Fidelas' which means always faithful. He is true to God, Corps and Country. And to me.
Time has a way of diminishing trauma and the weight becomes bearable. That is, until I read of another Gulf War veteran that has passed away from cancer at the age of 28 or that another has been diagnosed with ALS and will be confined to a wheelchair soon, or until I attend a conference and see even more canes, walkers and wheelchairs than I had the previous year.
Sorrow then mingles with helplessness as I realize that time may run out for my own husband.
The helplessness turns to sadness. My heart truly aches for the innocence that I was enveloped within as I wrapped my home in flags and yellow ribbons in the fall of 1990. My blind faith in my government ceased when I realized my husband's health problems, as well as thousands of other Gulf War veterans, were a result of service in the Gulf War.
The double talk, the lost records, the blatant untruths told by high ranking officials cause me to question the honor of our country. Apathy for ill Gulf War veterans from politicians and public tarnish that honor as well.
Where is the glory for the selflessness of service to our country? Where is our tribute to those soldiers; if not to at least cure their ills when they return from war?
There have been many joys in the five years past. Simple things that individuals seem to enjoy only after learning that time is limited. Sunrises, the baby's laughter and even my husband's snoring in the night seem to provide comfort and encouragement.
My personal rewards have been great. I began my advocacy as a waitress. I am now the vice-president of the largest Gulf War veterans organization in the nation. Progression requires knowledge and I have learned about chemical and biological warfare, the history of the Gulf War, Freedom of Information requests, government bureaucracy and how the human body works. I have developed skills I did not believe I possessed.
A recent victory in the battle for the recognition and treatment of GWI came when my husband was rated 100 percent disabled by the VA after a five-years rating delay. While it is a triumph, it is a hollow one just the same. The monthly disability will not provide a cure for the undiagnosable illnesses that ravage his body. It will not change the VA's lack of ability to treat him. It will not stop the deaths of others that had served in the war and now suffer as well.
Hopes and dreams support my affront on Gulf War Illnesses. Legislation passed with the federal budget bill sets aside $12 billion for research of Gulf War Illnesses and requires the National Academy of Sciences to list toxic exposures experienced by Gulf War soldiers.
It is believed that within two years research funded by this appropriation could pinpoint a cause of GWI. Prayers would be answered should this be the case. We seem to be headed in the right direction.
By the grace of God it will not take twenty years for Gulf War veterans illnesses to be identified as it did for those that suffered from Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam war. By the hard work of many, it may not take 20 years.
Tired or not, the battle goes on. Elections have given me a respite and I will spend the time studying the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee's Special report issued last month.
I want to be sure to be well-armed as Congress convenes in January. There are issues such as the length of rating decisions, the percentage of those that rated erroneously and the VA's lack of ability to care for the Gulf War veterans.
As they say, "The battle has been won but the war continues."
If you know somebody who has had their youth and their health and their strength stolen from them because they chose to honorably serve their country in the military during the Gulf War, put them in touch with Ms. Smith who can be contacted at the numbers provided below. Do not sit idly by and allow people you love slowly die. Life is not a spectator sport, but spectators are empowering horrible men to poison and kill Americans like lab rats.
Debra Smith, Vice-President
National Gulf War Resource Center;
Public Affairs Officer,
Idaho Desert Storm Justice Foundation
FAX (208) 798-0168
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