Gulf War Fallout: Part 2

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Updated: 3/06/2014 6:40 pm
(For more information about Matthew Parker and his journey, please read our story from last November.)

RENO, Nev. ( & KRNV) -- Marine veteran Matthew Parker fought for his country in Iraq, but his toughest battles didn't happen until he returned home.

"Lot of relationships damaged; they can't be repaired," said Parker. "That's not something you can flip and get those back."

When his deployment with Operation Southern Watch, the last leg of the Gulf War, came to an end in 1994, a series of escalating health issues and mood swings eventually snowballed. While living in Fallon, his marriage ended and their home fell into foreclosure.

"People saw it. I didn't, it's tough to look at the man in the mirror," Parker said.

In late 2011, Parker suffered a seizure caused by an undiagnosed brain tumor. During emergency surgery to remove the mass, doctors uncovered a second tumor.

"There's nothing else that, at the age of 36, could create a 5+ centimeter tumor in the front of my head, cause me to have one more," Parker said. "Good luck and bad luck isn't the extent of this."

Acting on a hunch, Parker called former servicemen from his unit who he hadn't spoken with in nearly ten years. The last name on the list, Dan Paris, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor the prior year.

"We were basically stuck at the hip through 90% of our time in the Marines," Paris recalled. "It's just very coincidental and odd that we both have brain issues now."

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

Parker filed for disability through Veteran's Affairs, citing exposure to depleted uranium as the cause to his health problems. The denial letter he received back was not only disappointing, it was insulting.

"'You never, ever were in these circumstances, never ever handled these things, there no evidence of you,'" Parker paraphrased from the letter. "It was devastating." 

Paris said he broke down in tears. "It was enough, I broke down as soon as I heard it. It was so hard to hear."

"Who else is going to stand up for us," asked Parker. "To this point, I’ve only found a handful of people and it's been closed doors and nobody willing to put a stamp on anything."

One person who did come forward is retired Army sergeant and current Veteran's Advocate, Dan Swafford, who lives in Phoenix.

"I was asked by his parents and they look me up," said Swafford. "They live in Sun City Grand where I live and they said 'are you Dan Swafford? You help veterans?' I said yes and she said 'could you help my son?'"

Swafford went to work immediately, putting together numerous exhibits over a six-month period that challenged the VA's decision inside an 80-page rebuttal. The paperwork was delivered to the Reno Veteran's Affairs office on September 6, 2013.

When our original story aired this past November, Nevada Senators Harry Reid and Dean Heller both responded by directing staff to contact Matthew Parker and Dan Paris to see where they could help. But things took an unexpected turn when Senator Reid’s staff requested an update from the Veteran's Affairs office regarding the status of Parker's rebuttal.

"A Congressional liaison, Veterans Affairs person in Reno admitted to losing the paperwork for Matthew," Swafford revealed. The file had disappeared.

"If you understand the tens of millions of paper records that deemed how his organization worked over the years, I can see how things get lost," said Senator Reid. "Hopefully, we've gotten it redirected here, and as I stated we're going to take a look at the overall program. I only looked at this one case."

"It's unacceptable, frankly, unacceptable," said Senator Heller. "But, there's a lot of things unacceptable today that we're trying to improve, we're trying help streamline. I sit on the Veteran's Committee, I talk about it every day I'm back in dc, but in this particular case, it's unacceptable also."

Swafford wants to know how an organization loses paperwork. Both Parker and Paris feel the misplaced file was no mistake.

"Somebody knew something," Paris said. "Somebody along the way that was asked by maybe myself, or Matt, knew something and was told not to say or chose not to say or whatever. No one is going to know, but they're not coming forward to say they knew."

"It's David versus Goliath right now. Okay, fair enough," Parker said.

The rebuttal paperwork has since been resubmitted, delaying the final decision for two men waiting for answers, while precious time ticks away. Parker doesn't know how much time he has. "With one more tumor and Dan still has his, so the time is potentially limited in all reality."

Paris said surgery is not really an option for him. "Until I can't handle the pain anymore. Where it's at in my head, I would be dealing with motor function, speech and higher learning, the three areas that will be affected if they go in my head and having the chance if being a vegetable and my doing anything for the rest of my life, I'll deal with the pain as long as I can."

Veterans who may have been exposed during the Gulf War are encourage to register with the VA Special Environmental Health Registry Evaluation Program by heading to their website.

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