RENO, Nev. (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:
Parker and Paris said they were never told about the program.