By: Colin Megill
|By: Colin Megill|
Issue date: 4/27/05 Section: Commentary (http://www.dailycampus.com/news/2005/04/27/Commentary)
Melissa Sterry is a veteran of the Gulf War. While deployed in Iraq, she was working to put tanks, armored vehicles and nearly every other type of vehicle used by ground forces away into storage. Since she returned, she has suffered from myriad of symptoms resembling those of the hibakusha - the Japanese word for radiation victim, coined after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
She is sick with Gulf War Syndrome, an illness with numerous possible causes and even more symptoms. She has suffered through three heart attacks and two heart surgeries as well as chronic fatigue syndrome caused by her exposure to depleted uranium (DU) and she has had to fight the government for disability since she filed for it in 1995. She is by no means alone.
By current estimates, 300,000 Gulf War veterans are on permanent disability and have had to fight to gain and keep it. Since the end of the war, in which we lost 165 troops during combat operations, unofficial estimates place the death toll at 40,000 out of 694,000 deployed troops that have died of Gulf War Syndrome. The National Vital Statistics Report predicts that by 2013, 80,000 to 100,000 veterans will have died.
Sterry has helped to introduce two bills concerning depleted uranium into the Connecticut legislature. These bills, House bill 6008 and 1245, deserve university and student support, as they are a concern to every citizen and for reasons I will list, in the interest of our institution.
Bill 1245 calls for a conference on depleted uranium to occur and this conference should occur at a public university. If these bills are passed and Connecticut becomes a frontrunner in treating veterans suffering from Gulf War Sickness, a conference on depleted uranium held at UConn will attract experts, activists and soldiers from around the country and the globe.
State funds allocated to hold a conference should be dispersed to a public university, not a private one. The UConn School of Health, the sciences and political science department, as well as UConnPIRG, should lobby the sponsors of these bills to ensure a public university receives the funding that could bring it much notoriety as the issue of depleted uranium gains more momentum.
Sterry was kind enough to grant me an interview and what follows is her perspective on what may come to be the defining factor of our era of war in the Persian Gulf: depleted uranium.
DC: Do you believe that DU will be as great a health crisis to those returning veterans who've served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as to those who served in the Gulf War?
MS: Yes. All wars are the same, all wars are different. There are always wounds caused by bullets, bombs and shrapnel - these are the wounds everyone understands. However, all wars also have a signature illness. In World War I, it was mustard gas. In World War II, it was the physical trauma of extended POW stays. In Vietnam, it was Agent Orange. In the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the illness is due to DU exposure. People are coming home sick and we need to help ease the burden by intervening before veterans need to go on disability and lose their jobs. If testing is available, we can work toward treating veterans and acknowledging their disorders before they lose their ability to contribute meaningfully to society.
DC: If depleted uranium weaponry was so harmful to soldiers and civilians, why does the government continue to use it?
MS: Depleted uranium is an extraordinarily effective weapon. As a soldier, I am torn: anything that makes it harder to kill me and easier to kill the enemy is a good thing. But as a person, I would concentrate on the hideous side effects. It's not just enemy soldiers that suffer but our own soldiers, plus the civilians and children of the country we use DU weapons against. The health impact and side effects are not a good tradeoff. It's not acceptable collateral damage.
DC: What do you believe are the obligations, if any, of the United States to the countries upon which it unleashes DU weaponry?
MS: I don't know, I really don't know. On a larger scale, I think every state who participates in a war has a responsibility to clean it up. If you plant landmines you pick them up. There are certain obligations we have to human beings regardless of nation. This isn't about Americans or Iraqis; it's about humanity. After World War II, at great expense and energy, we cleaned up Europe - and we have this obligation to the countries we fight wars in today.
DC: How will these bills help soldiers who suffer from depleted uranium poisoning from deployments in Gulf War I and the current Operation Iraqi Freedom?
MS: The bill introduced by Patricia Dillon (D-Conn.), 6008, gives soldiers the right to independent testing and tells us what may or may not be making us sick. There is an inherent conflict of interests with the government testing its own soldiers for DU exposure: at some point the government decided it was not going to acknowledge these problems. The government has kept tests from soldiers and skewed the tests that it has performed. For all those who jump up and down saying they support the troops, few people know what that really means. The Department of Defense's first priority isn't treating its soldiers; it's buying weapons, because that's their job. Until they receive pressure to treat their veterans better, they won't. Bills 6008 and 1245 have a symbiotic relationship in helping to tangibly improve the lives of veterans. Bill 1245, introduced by State Senator Gayle Slossberg (D-Conn.), acts as a supplement - once you have an independent test, what do you do with the information? This bill calls for a task force, a study and a conference on Depleted Uranium and other agents of war that may be affecting the health of American veterans.
It is time for this country, state and university to get behind our veterans. They, who sacrifice so much for us deserve our unwavering and genuine support. Unless you call Dillon and Slossberg, take the useless yellow ribbon off of your car.