Today is our 285th day back in Iraq.
There have been no new casualties in either theater.
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 615, 057, 700, 000 .00
Let's take a look at how our veterans are doing these days. We'll start long ago and far away...in Iraq, circa 1991. Our soldiers started coming home with a mysterious illness called Gulf War syndrome that nobody could correctly diagnose. After two decades of denials, theories, misguided treatments, and who knows what else, it turns out that maybe it was chemical weapons after all. But not from who you think
During and immediately after the first Gulf War, more than 200,000 of 700,000 U.S. troops sent to Iraq and Kuwait in January 1991 were exposed to nerve gas and other chemical agents. Though aware of this, the Department of Defense and CIA launched a campaign of lies and concocted a cover-up that continues today.
A quarter of a century later, the troops nearest the explosions are dying of brain cancer at two to three times the rate of those who were farther away. Others have lung cancer or debilitating chronic diseases, and pain.
According to Dr. Linda Chao, a neurologist at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco, “Because part of their brains, the hippocampus, has shrunk, they’re at greater risk for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases.”
At first, the DOD was adamant: No troops were exposed.
“No information…indicates that chemical or biological weapons were used in the Persian Gulf,” wrote Secretary of Defense William Perry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs John Shalikashvili in a 1994 memo to 20,000 Desert Storm veterans. Strictly speaking, they were right: No weapons were used. The nerve agent sarin was in the fallout from the U.S. bombing or detonating of Iraq’s weapons sites.
As Alan Friedman wrote in The Spider Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq, the Reagan and Bush administrations, which backed Iraq in its 1980-1988 war with Iran, approved of U.S. companies selling chemical agents and equipment to Iraq, including “a huge petrochemicals complex called PC2. Western intelligence also knew that PC2 was capable of generating chemical compounds to make mustard and nerve gas.”
Donald Riegle, a Democratic U.S. Senator from Michigan, held hearings about the veterans illnesses in 1993 and 1994. He told me the decision by Reagan and Bush “to secretly help Saddam Hussein build his biological and chemical weapons was a monstrous strategic error that eventually led to the tragedy of Gulf War Syndrome, which killed and disabled so many unprotected American troops.”
During January and February 1991, when the U.S. bombed Iraq’s weapons plants and storage sites, poisonous plumes floated across the desert to thousands of U.S. troops based on the Saudi border. Sirens wailed daily, but officers in charge announced that the chemical-detection alarms were faulty.
They were not.
A Czech chemical-weapons detection unit found “trace concentrations of sarin, a nerve-paralyzing substance” drifting into Saudi Arabia. French, British and U.S. intelligence units found similar evidence.
Tracy Elledge, a former combat engineer and one of the veterans I interviewed, said, “Alarms went off all the time.… Our officers told us they were false and to disconnect them.”
However, Elledge and others were breathing poison.
Nice, huh? Unfortunately that's not the only place with a toxic atmosphere. You'd think that back at home, in a hospital, war wounded and other injured troops would find a nurturing and supportive atmosphere. We'll, you'd be wrong
. It's unclear if the climate contributed to any negative outcomes, but I'd have to say, "probably".
The Army's investigation of wounded warrior care at Fort Carson, Colo., last year found allegations of a "toxic environment" that at times pitted the command and staff against the soldiers in treatment and undergoing evaluation.
Fort Carson soldiers who received care at the Evans Army Community Hospital told Army investigators that they also received abuse as staff and unit leaders tried to force them out of the Army.
Meanwhile, doctors at Fort Carson took out extra malpractice insurance to protect themselves against liability and accused soldiers of attempting to game the system to get more benefits, according to the Article 15-6 fact-finding investigation by Army Brig. Gen. John Sullivan, the Chief of Transportation and Transportation School Commandant.
The climate of mutual suspicion was such that the Army staff sergeant whose complaints triggered the investigation secretly recorded his sessions with staff when he was warned by a Fort Carson social worker that he was being set up to be discharged without benefits for misconduct, or "chaptered out."
Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, who ordered the Fort Carson investigation, said at a meeting with Pentagon reporters last month that the issues were ultimately resolved to the staff sergeant's satisfaction and that the Fort Carson case did not indicate a "systemic" problem with Army care.
However, the Army confirmed earlier this month that a separate Article 15-6 investigation under the Uniform Code of Military justice is currently underway on new allegations of over-medication and harassment by staff at the Fort Hood Warrior Transition Unit in Texas.
Army Secretary John McHugh said earlier this month that he had met recently with Horoho and "we addressed this matter."
"I can tell you she has taken it very, very seriously and has taken multiple steps to ensure we provide the best possible care and the highest level of dignity and respect," McHugh said. "We've had some issues, but if you look across the entire WTU program, they have been relatively isolated. But one case, one failure, for these warriors is one too many."
But it's not just the climate. How about another story that is pretty close to outright malpractice?
Our veterans are supposed to have the best - not quackery.
When Tim Kuncl shattered his shinbone after falling from his Puyallup home's rooftop while hanging Christmas lights in 2011, he trusted that his local Veterans Affairs hospital would return him to health.
But more than three years and three surgeries later, the 45-year-old Coast Guard veteran's confidence in VA health care has also been smashed.
"It ruined my life," said Kuncl, a married father of four.
Tim Kuncl of Puyallup is a former Coast Guard officer who recently had his led amputated by a private surgeon after enduring several unsuccessful surgeries at the VA Hospital in Seattle.
From the get go, Kuncl's complicated bone break challenged doctors. Each surgery at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle succeeded only in leaving him in escalating pain, Kuncl said. His agony became so intense he could barely control his bladder when he walked.
Last fall, after a VA nurse told him his pain was partly neuropathic -- even though X-rays showed problems with surgical hardware -- Kuncl finally had had enough. He turned to treatment at a private hospital, where he learned his leg damage left him few options.
Now, with only a stump below one of his knees, Kuncl is recovering from recent amputation surgery while sounding an alarm for other vets.
"I don't want to see what happened to me happen to anyone else," said Kuncl, a longtime VA volunteer.
Often the object of criticism, VA health care remains under fire in the wake of a national controversy that rocked the federal agency last year.
The waiting-list scandal, which emerged at the VA's Phoenix hospital, revealed veterans were dying while waiting for medical appointments. Meanwhile, hospital staffers covered up the delays by falsifying records.
In the scandal's fallout, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned and scrutiny of VA health care intensified nationwide.
A year later, many veterans agree with local VA officials' assessment that waiting times for appointments at Puget Sound facilities have dropped. Still, some vets and their advocates contend quicker visits are masking deeper problems of understaffing, inexperienced doctors and poor care quality.
"The VA is definitely seeing a larger quantity of people," said Ann Deutscher, a Kent attorney who handles medical-malpractice cases for veterans. "But they're not getting the quality of care they need."
Finally, we'll make a brief visit to Washington to see if anyone is working on any relief. Oh, nevermind; It's more war!
As Iran talks appear to be coming to a close with a successful agreement that would both lead to the lifting of international sanctions and restrictions that would prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons, most in the international community are relieved.
Yet Republicans have teamed up with their counterparts in the Israeli political system to do everything they can to obstruct a deal – with tactics such as drafting new sanctions legislation and warning the Iranian leadership that the nuclear agreement will not outlast President Obama.
But this past week Senator John McCain (R-AZ) ratcheted up this sabotage to a new level. During a floor speech he gave on March 24th, the senator suggested that Israel “go rogue” and that if they don't they may not survive the next 22 months of the Obama presidency:
McCAIN: The Israelis will need to chart their own path of resistance. On the Iranian nuclear deal, they may have to go rogue. Let's hope their warnings have not been mere bluffs. Israel survived its first 19 years without meaningful U.S. patronage. For now, all it has to do is get through the next 22, admittedly long, months.