Gulf War Fallout: Depleted Uranium

Reported by: Elias Johnson
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Updated: 11/21/2013 4:49 pm

(KRNV & MyNews4.com) - Three miles south of Fallon, in the heart of rural northern Nevada, there's a home at the end of a road called Woodlands Place.

"We all have hopes and dreams and this one devastates me,” USMC veteran, Matthew Parker said.  “Whiped me out."

Today, Parker's American dream sits abandoned, with a for sale sign leaning against a tree in the front yard.

It still hasn't set in, that realization that everything went to nothing," Parker said.

Parker's story begins in 1995, as a 19-year-old enlistee with the Marine Corps, fresh out of high school.

"Desert Storm had already ended as passed.  I wanted to be a part of the best fighting force in the world," Parker said.

Saddam Hussein’s military had been decimated and allied forces had taken control of keys military bases, including installations Hussein invaded in neighboring Kuwait.  As an aviation ordinance lance corporal with the 369th Marine Division, Parker deployed as part of Operation Southern Watch, a six-month mission that took his unit to the Middle East aboard the USS Peleliu.

"You're in a circumstance were there had to be things done, things moved, you work, that was us," Parker said.

The unit saw little combat and much more of the aftermath left from several years of heavy artillery and strategic bombings, which included securing bunkers and weapons at Ali Al Saleem Air Base in Kuwait.  Despite being in what were classified as peaceful times, Parker says there were numerous occasions his unit was called to arm Cobra helicopters with special 20mm rounds tipped with depleted uranium, one by one.

"The need had arisen to potentially have some serious consequences. You just didn't handle depleted uranium ammo state side.  We loaded 2,400 rounds, linking every one, no gloves – nothing;  just a pair of coveralls and they're wrapped down around your waist because you're sweating," Parker said.

To better understand the science behind depleted uranium, we headed to the UC Davis chemistry department, headed by Prof. Bill Casey

"All uranium is slightly radioactive, so you have a radioactivity hazard, it's very slight.  Depleted uranium is less radioactive than regular uranium, it also has a chemical hazard.  The chemical hazard really only shows up when you're making extremely small particles out of it, or costic materials and you're breathing it," Casey said.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), was a highlighted part of military training during and after the Gulf War due to the potential chemical and radioactive threat that existed, including the handling of munitions, and breathing in depleted uranium particles left behind in contaminated bunkers and vehicles that were targeted during Desert Storm. Despite need to have PPE, Parker says it was never used. 

"We didn't have it, never saw it.  You're supposed to have it and every ordinance man knows, or anyone who handles it knows you're supposed to have PPE," Parker said.

When the deployment was over, Parker returned home to begin civilian life. A new job took him from his home in Seattle, WA, to Fallon, NV.  For the next five years, things were going well in his new life.

"Newly married, everything kicking off, it was exciting, defiantly exciting - on top of the world," Parker said.

Being on top, didn't last long.  Mood swings, joint pain and severe headaches gradually took over his life.

"Years if Nyquil, years of alcohol trying to take in alcohol to kick the Nyquil up and get that sleep.  I had the habit of coming down with severe sinus infections and they became quite regular,” Parker said.

Parker says the sinus infections became so bad, he went to see a doctor in Carson City.  In the waiting room of the doctor’s office, he suffered a seizure and was rushed to the hospital.

"Carson-Tahoe ran an MRI and discovered there was a massive tumor in the front of my head," Parker said.

The five centimeter tumor was removed, and Parker began the healing process.  After surgery, his doctor asked him if he'd ever been exposed to radiation.  Knowing what he and three other soldiers experienced overseas, he began making phone calls.  The first two men from his unit reported to be fine, but nothing could have prepared him for the conversation he had with the third member of the unit, Dan Paris, who Parker had worked with side-by-side and hadn't spoken to in ten years.

"I'm like, hey man, how you doing?  And he said, ‘I'm not doing too good.’  He said, ‘I just had brain surgery.  I said, ‘What are you talking about?’  He said ‘i have this mass in my head, they had to take it out and I almost died.’ I'm like, ‘Dude, stop joking around I got the same thing in my head,"  Paris recalled.

"He said that they had found his on Thanksgiving in 2010, and we were both in the same boat," Parker said.

As they tried to link a cause to their cancers, both men arrived at the same conclusion.

"There's only one thing he and I have a link on and that's depleted uranium munitions," Parker said.

According to Paris, their hypothesis was not well received by doctors with Veteran's Affairs.

"They don't even want to talk about it. You bring it up and they try to dismiss it as fast as they can.  There's very little of anyone who wants to help you, or even talk to you about it," Paris said.

Parker's request for disability through the VA, sighting exposure to DU came back denied; stating there was no evidence to connect his tumor to depleted uranium exposure, nor was there any proof he was exposed to DU during his deployment.

"For them to come back and put out the denial letter like they stated...there's anger.  If they can do that to me and to Dan, what are they doing to other guys?  That thought goes through your head.  What are they doing to the rest of our vets?  I'm a nobody, the reality is I’m nothing and you hear these stories and one day you're on the receiving end and it is a tough pill to swallow," Parker said.

Retired Marine Corps veteran, Dr. Alan Levin, who served in Vietnam has reviewed the men's case, and feels there is little doubt behind what caused their tumors.

"You're at close access to the uranium, which is submitting alpha, beta and gamma particles at low levels which is carcinogenic.  So, the problem is it was ridiculous to use depleted uranium in the first place.  This is real typical of how Veteran’s Affairs deals with our veterans," Dr. Levin said.

News 4 asked the Department of Defense specific questions regarding the use of depleted uranium during the Gulf War and the health effects that have shown up in soldiers like Matthew Parker and Dan Paris.  Their official response was in the form of a link to a website explaining the use of depleted uranium in the military and states, ‘There is no evidence natural or depleted uranium has caused cancer in people.’  We asked, again for a response to our specific questions and did not hear back. Both Paris and Parker were not surprised.

"The evidence is there, it's a huge possibility worth looking at and nobody seems to want to look at it," Paris said.

“Why would you be required to wear something that's going to protect you from radiation, or damaging radioactive material if there's nothing there?  And when you dot have it and the end consequence is your life is shattered because you wake up one morning with a massive tumor in your head and our buddy has a similar situation, now, everyone wants to go, well, the science just isn't there.  That doesn't work, that's not a feasible answer," Parker said.

In response to our story, Nevada leaders in Washington are calling for federal investigations into the effects of depleted uranium on our soldiers.

According to a statement release by Sen. Harry Reid, “This situation troubles me, and this is the first time I am hearing of such a thing. I have directed my staff in Reno to immediately reach out to these individuals for specifics in their cases, and to make an inquiry to the Department of Veterans affairs to seek a resolution."

Sen. Dean Heller stated, "Through their service, many of our nation's service members are exposed to harmful elements that can have long-term effects on their health.  Both congress and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs must take care to fully investigate the correlation between exposure to harmful materials and our veterans' health. Sitting on the Veteran’s Affairs committee, I have an opportunity to work with my colleagues every day to fight for Nevada’s veterans. I have heard from veterans in Nevada who are concerned about exposure to depleted uranium munitions. As we learn more and hear more about this issue, it is my hope that this will be a topic for the committee's consideration in the future."

Veterans who may have been exposed during the Gulf War are encourage
 to register with the VA Special Envoirnmental Health Registry Evaluation Program by heading to:

www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/coordinators.asp

Parker and Paris said they were never told about the program.

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10 Comment(s)
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Here are the most recent story comments.View All

Kramer - 2/20/2014 3:05 PM
0 Votes
how's the Veterans Admin. per4ormance since the (press)revelations during the Iraq war? any reporters (or just repeaters) out there?

Kramer - 2/20/2014 3:04 PM
0 Votes
guess we can continue to ignore poorly educated "journalists", and stick to criticising those exercizing freedom of speech, right? If this had been more readable, I would have bothered to finish. & where do U get off assuming my motivation(s)? stay out of the KPitchen, then

oldguyincc - 2/19/2014 10:32 PM
1 Vote
Kramer, you're a real piece of work. This a story about a former Marine, who has been shamefully treated, like many other veterans of all of the services, by the government in the service of which he was injured. And all you can do is criticize spelling and punctuation.

Kramer - 2/19/2014 2:46 PM
0 Votes
Nv4: that would be "caustic" materials; and Veterans Affairs, no ' (it's plural).

Reno Deano - 2/19/2014 9:33 AM
0 Votes
Here is a pretty factual dissertation on Depleted Uranium and its uses and risks. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depleted_uranium Dean Chaney, CHP

Reno Deano - 2/19/2014 9:25 AM
0 Votes
"Depleted Uranium" does not mean there is no Uranium there. Depleted means the useful (fissile) U-235 isotope (including other fissile isotopes of Uranium) have been removed. U-238 is not a fissile isotope. Most of the radioactivity is from daughter products and they come from residual Uranium. It takes approx. 1600 years after U-238 decays to Radium 226 for lead to appear. Depleted Uranium munitions are generally encased or alloyed in a thin layer of metal, and handling them is a relatively low risk operation. Exploded depleted munitions and their targets are another story as to the risk involved. Dean Chaney, CHP

Trzo9veuha - 12/3/2013 11:54 AM
0 Votes
As described in its very name, "depleted" uranium is not radioactive and is actually a hardened lead alloy. Didn't any of you actually listen in high school chemistry class?

willmc4 - 11/23/2013 9:29 PM
0 Votes
Time to stop participating in these useless, wasteful and nonproductive wars. We have not won any of these conflicts and Iraq was simply an exercise to make the corporate machine wealthier. Some 5 thousand are dead just from this last conflict and that is our side of it...think of the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed. How would we like it if some super nation came to blow us?

buacl - 11/21/2013 8:16 PM
1 Vote
This is certainly troubling, although nothing new to our Veterans. I have a friend who's son was injured due to an ied that killed the doctor he was transporting and he has severe headaches, seizures and a complete personality change and sleeping habits. It took the VA over six years to even say that an explosion would have caused these symptoms. (that was before 2007) These people went where most of us sitting at home fear, and the government tries to fight and deny when they are sick and they need help. You would expect the government to pay the healing costs and not worry about their cover-up lies,- that "we do it only the safe way". The first insult is that they say it wasn't caused by anything we asked you to do. The injury is that they won't accept responsibility and treat. The faith is lost when they won't be accountable and make you prove something when obviously, you were in great health for them to accept you. -When the government puts people in harms way -And then LIES about it, the soldiers should get more than insurance and a pension. They should receive monetary value on the quality of the life that they had before.

BDeckwa - 11/21/2013 5:17 PM
0 Votes
They will have to get together and file a class action suit against the VA. Thios is reminisant to the Agent Oranange and PTSD suits that went onafter Viet Nam. The government will deny, deny, deny. They will lie to the public that no uranium was used. vLook what they did for the Vets after they sat through the A-bomb blasts in Nevada. Denied them benefits until they were almost gone. No one was left to collect the token payments that were given. The Government is not good to the Veterans. Don't worry, we have a great VA if you have time to sit around the lobby waiting to be seen.
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