Gulf War Syndrome, Other Illnesses Among Veterans May Be Due To Toxic Environments
February 7, 2013
In 1991, as part of Operation Desert Storm, former U.S. Army Spc. Candy Lovett arrived in Kuwait a healthy 29-year-old eager to serve her country. Two decades later, she's accumulated a stack of medical records over five feet high -- none of which relates to injuries inflicted by bullets or shrapnel.
"It's just been one thing after another," said the veteran, who now resides in Miami and whose ailments run the gamut from lung disease and sleep apnea to, most recently, terminal breast cancer. "At one point," she said, "I was on over 50 pills."
Former Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tim Wymore, who was deployed to Iraq in 2004, suffers from an array of health problems that mirror Lovett's. "Everyone has the same things," said Wymore, who has inexplicably shed 40 pounds in the last few months. "It's just weird."
Wymore and Lovett -- and countless others who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the desert region over the past three decades -- have struggled to understand this, but they share one nagging conviction: These ailments are tied to service in a war zone.
Their suspicions -- long rebuffed by insurance companies -- are now getting support from some doctors and environmental health researchers, who suspect that American soldiers are being unnecessarily exposed to heavily contaminated environments while serving overseas. Even when not engaged directly in combat, they say, servicemen and women -- typically without protective masks or other simple precautions -- live and work amid clouds of Middle Eastern dust laden with toxic metals, bacteria and viruses, and surrounded by plumes of smoke rising from burn pits, a common U.S. military practice of burning feces, plastic bottles and other solid waste in open pits, often with jet fuel.
Research published in December 2012 raises the possibility that in some instances, soldiers may have been exposed to airborne cocktails that included low levels of a deadly chemical warfare agent, the nerve gas sarin, which wafted hundreds of miles from U.S.-bombed Iraqi facilities.
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