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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Next RAC meeting announced

Written by Anthony Hardie, 91outcomes

(91outcomes.blogspot.com) - The next meeting of the Congressionally chartered U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses (RAC) is scheduled for March 1st-2nd, 2010 in Washington DC.

Two additional RAC meetings will be held in 2010.  Another will be held in Washington, DC on June 28th and 29th, 2010.

The final RAC meeting for 2010 will be held in Boston on November 1st and 2nd, 2010.

Additional information about the meetings is available on the RAC website:  http://www1.va.gov/RAC-GWVI

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Inquest Granted for another dead UK victim of Gulf War Syndrome

Written by Mike Laycock, The [York, UK] Press

(YORK, UK ) -- THE frustrated parents of York Gulf War veteran Terry Walker are hoping an inquest into his death will finally be held next year, some three years after he died.

Ted and Hazel Walker, of Wheldrake, say they have still not heard any news about when the hearing will take place to investigate Terry’s death in May 2007. The father of two was 48 when he died shortly after a failed heart transplant in Newcastle.

An inquest was originally scheduled to be held in Newcastle in December 2007, but was postponed at the 11th hour by the coroner at the request of the Walkers.

They had been horrified after discovering it was only set to examine the failure of the transplant operation, and not the preceding years of illness which they blamed on Gulf War syndrome.

The coroner had said he did not feel issues of Gulf War syndrome should properly arise as part of the inquest proceedings, but the Walkers claimed Terry had only needed the operation because of years of ill health and stress caused by the condition, and they wanted medical witnesses to be called to speak about it.

They were convinced the former lance corporal’s exposure to radiation and inoculations in the Gulf War was the root cause of his death.

The Press launched a ‘Justice For Terry’ campaign following his death, after revealing his war pension had been cut by 60 per cent before he died. His parents believed the stress caused by this had been another factor behind him suffering the heart attack which prompted the transplant.

The newspaper successfully campaigned for Terry’s family to receive the full pension to which they were entitled.

Mrs Walker said today of the inquest date: “We have not heard anything whatsoever. We just have to be patient and sit and wait for it to be held. There’s nothing we can do.

“It’s frustrating because we cannot settle anything. We are on pins all the time. It’s going to bring it all back.”

The couple have said despite the delays, they would not regret delaying the original hearing – provided the delay eventually resulted in a full and comprehensive inquest.

A coroner’s officer said there was no news yet as to the setting of a date for the inquest.

Iraq Veteran’s Experiences Rhyme with those of 1991 Gulf War

6 years after Iraq, hexavalent chromium exposure weighs on veteran

Written by Julie Sullivan, The Oregonian 
(ROCKAWAY, Ore. - December 28, 2009) -- The Naylor living room is all playroom, cleared to toddle, cuddle and roll. But when Dad's home, the children often head to the back bedroom to play quietly with Mom.

Six years after Guy Naylor returned from Iraq, he can't stand the clamor of his own family. The soft-spoken dialysis technician shouted at other drivers so often, his family moved to Rockaway to escape Portland traffic. The medic who ran every day has gained 80 pounds. Joint pain wakes him. He coughs so much, his patients constantly ask if he has a cold. He swallows nine different medications a day. Up from none.
"He doesn't seem like a 40-year-old man," says his wife, Toniann. "He seems 60."

Naylor is being treated for post-traumatic stress and exposure to hexavalent chromium, an industrial chemical and well-known carcinogen that soldiers unwittingly faced while guarding war contractors. He's one of 278 Oregon Army National Guard soldiers who were notified of possible exposure while serving at or near the Qarmat Ali water-treatment plant in 2003. Fleeing Iraqi troops loyal to Saddam Hussein had dumped the orange industrial chemical across the property.

Since the Oregon Guard's notified Naylor "out of the blue" last February of his exposure, he has taken all the recommended steps. He's been examined by the Portland Veterans Affairs environmental physician. He's enrolled in the Gulf War Registry.

The list includes the 112,515 veterans whose confounding symptoms are linked to tours in the Gulf in 1990-91 and in Iraq since 2003. Naylor's symptoms are a chief reason why the VA wants to track all Qarmat Ali veterans separately, flagging their records and studying them over time.

But naming Naylor's issues doesn't make living with them any easier. The weight of Naylor's war, like many combat veterans, is being shouldered almost entirely by his family.

"Everyone is supposed to be happy now because the spouse is home and everyone is together, putting the pieces back together again," says his wife, Toniann Naylor, 31.

"But the pieces no longer fit."

When Guy Naylor's Forest Grove unit was called up seven years ago, Capt. Jon Van Horn chose Naylor for a senior medic position. Naylor was a Portland native who had served in the Oregon Guard since 1987, combating fires and floods. He'd been an active duty soldier, in Korea and for two years at Walter Reed Medical Center. He worked as a kidney dialysis technician at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. He was a married father of four. He was, Van Horn says, experienced, dependable, motivated and upbeat.

Their unit was among the first Oregon troops into Iraq, and they paid for the honor. Hygiene and air quality was so bad at their first Kuwaiti camp, soldiers suffered bloody diarrhea and could not safely exercise for all the burning industrial pollutants. Naylor, who'd also been trained as a machine gunner, was among the small number of Oregon soldiers sent to guard Kellogg Brown & Root employees working on Operation Restore Iraqi Oil. Small teams traveled to the Iraqi border, jumping into KBR vehicles headed to the oil fields.

One stop was the Qarmat Ali water-treatment plant, where the soldiers stayed outside while KBR contractors worked indoors. Months later, the Indiana Guard replacing Oregon troops learned the orange dust coating their clothing and boots at the plant was a corrosion fighter that contained the carcinogen, hexavalent chromium. 

Last year, KBR employees and Indiana soldiers accused managers at the Halliburton subsidiary of deliberately withholding that information in order to restore the oil flow and earn millions in completion bonuses.

At the plant, Naylor both suffered and treated fellow soldiers for the coughs, sinus problems and headaches that he blamed on sand and dehydration.

After Naylor's unit left Qarmat Ali in June 2003, their problems persisted at a base outside Baghdad where they confronted other problems. "We saw terrible things. None of us were prepared for the local stuff," says Van Horn, a physician assistant at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center who specializes in trauma.

The medics would treat Iraqi families who came to the gate for care, sometimes with children who'd been dipped into boiling water for punishment. The scald victims were usually girls as young as 9 months. The child abuse haunted the soldiers, especially Naylor and other fathers, says Van Horn. "We were treating the kids at the gate for burns that would have landed them in a burn center here."

Naylor was also miserable in the 150-degree heat with stinging rashes on his back and chest. The first time he jumped from a troop truck, the weight of his body armor drove him to his knees. But he was also a superb medic, according to his supervisor, Staff Sgt. Rob Stevens, who said Naylor saved a soldier who'd been hurt in a Humvee rollover.

But Naylor never got comfortable in combat. "I was afraid all the time," he admits, and he worried constantly about his family back in Oregon.

He had met his wife at work at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, where Toniann, a single mom, was attracted by his calm and steady devotion. But at his homecoming in 2004, Naylor snapped at their kids.
"It was an instant change," she says. "I kept waiting for him to come back to his old normal self. It me took three years to realize that wasn't going to happen."

Sixteen soldiers from Naylor's unit have sued KBR for knowingly exposing them to hexavalent chromium. They join Guard soldiers from Indiana, West Virginia and South Carolina who say they suffer breathing and stomach problems, and are at a higher risk of cancer. At least three soldiers who served at Quarmat Ali have died of cancer, including Nicholas Thomas of Happy Valley. KBR has denied harming troops. KBR argues that no injury is linked to chemical exposure at the water treatment plant.

Complaints from KBR employees and Indiana Guard arose during Senate hearings on Iraq contract abuses in 2008. That led to the Oregon connection, virtually unknown until it was reported in The Oregonian last January. Shortly after, the Oregon Guard sent letters to soldiers who served at or near Quarmat Ali.

At least five others Oregon soldiers are expected to join the suit this week, bringing the total to 21, says Portland attorney David Sugerman. Attorneys are wrangling over whether KBR is subject to the jurisdiction of Oregon courts.

Meanwhile, Naylor has not had the time or the energy to join the suit, much less learn much about it. He puts 500 miles a week on his pickup commuting to St. Vincent's for his $35,000-a-year job. He works three 12-hour days, sleeping at his parents' home in Forest Grove, then returns home for long weekends. Older children Brett, 18, and Sierra, 15, live mostly with Naylor's first wife. Toniann stays home with Amyann, 13; Kayla, 7; Dominic, 5; and Joey, 14 months.

The family has felt the brunt of the war. When Naylor first came back from Iraq, he drank. He erupted in explosive rage. He was exhausted. As his mood steadily darkened, he threatened to drive off a cliff. He tried sawing through his arm with a knife and was hospitalized in the VA's psych unit, diagnosed with bipolar disorder that doctors told him emerged after his traumatic experiences in Iraq.

He's being treated by a VA psychologist and therapist, has stopped binge drinking, and medication has stabilized his mood. But like all rural veterans, access to PTSD experts with combat experience is limited.
Physically, his symptoms seem to mirror problems associated with hexavalent chromium: He takes medicine for high blood pressure and a racing heart and severe acid reflux. He still has short-term memory problems and severe sleep apnea.

And Dominic, now 5, conceived within a week of his homecoming has been diagnosed with autism. Naylor fears a connection to his Iraq service. 

"I have a lot of guilt," Naylor says, "thinking maybe I brought something home."

Toniann refuses to blame her husband. She concentrates on surviving. The couple drained a pension fund and sold his CPR training equipment on eBay to help Santa Claus. They marvel they are still together and agree it's for the kids. They even supported his oldest son, Brett, whose dream has been to join Naylor's former Oregon Guard unit.

Van Horn, Naylor's medical commander in Iraq, says he was shocked when he first saw Naylor back at headquarters in Forest Grove after their return.

"Something got sucked out of him," Van Horn says. Naylor retired from the Guard in March, after 22 years.
Van Horn says for all the talk of the Greatest Generation, Naylor's generation faces the same issues as soldiers in World War II, Korea and Vietnam did. War is hell. And then you take it home.

"But I'm proud of Guy. Whatever his issues are, he's remained functional. He's returned to society, he's gone on with his life. He's carrying his load. And he has not quit.

"He has not quit."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Study suggests link between Gulf War desert dust, ALS

Written by Anthony Hardie, 91outcomes

(91outcomes.blogpost.com) - A scientific study by Paul Cox, Renee Richer and their colleagues being published this month suggests that microscopic toxins and bacteria contained in the dust of the Persian Gulf region may be spike in ALS that occurred among veterans in the first several years that followed the 1991 Gulf War.

Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae is one of the components of the desert sands in the Persian Gulf region, particularly Qatar, according to the researchers.  When the sand is disturbed by military vehicle and other man-made activity, the cyanobacteria-containing dust becomes airborne.

The study authors found that it was biologically plausible that airborne dust particles containing cyanobacteria, accompanied by cyanotoxins, including one in particular – BMAA – could be at the root of the ALS spike among veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.

According to the study’s conclusions:
We suggest that inhalation of BMAA, DAB, and other aerosolized cyanotoxins may constitute a significant risk factor for the development of ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
  • LINK to the study abstract.

PRESS RELEASE: Kucinich Wins $8 million for Gulf War Illnesses Research

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), has issued the following press release:

WASHINGTON - December 17 - Efforts by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to continue to help ailing veterans of the first Gulf War paid off yesterday when he won the inclusion of $8,000,000 for Gulf War Veterans Illnesses (GWVI) in H.R. 3326, the Defense Appropriations spending bill.

"One in four veterans of the first Gulf War suffers from Gulf War Veterans Illnesses. We absolutely cannot allow the research to be stopped. That is even more true recently as research has advanced dramatically in the last few years," said Kucinich

Congressman Kucinich has consistently led the bipartisan Congressional effort to maintain this critical research. His most recent letter was signed by 26 Members of Congress including the bipartisan leadership of the Veterans' Affairs Committee and Health Subcommittee as well as members of the Appropriations Committee and Armed Services Committee.

"We have a responsibility to find treatments for the soldiers who continue to pay a heavy price for their service over 15 years later. We cannot leave them behind," added Kucinich

Last year, the 454-page report by the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses concluded that the extensive scientific evidence now available yields three conclusions: Gulf War illness is real, was caused by toxic exposures during the war, and there are no currently effective treatments.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

VA: Shinseki Gives Holiday Message to Veterans

The following is a holiday message from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki:
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On Christmas Eve, 1776, General George Washington met with his war council in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, to finalize what he hoped would be a “brilliant stroke,” a turning point in America’s War for Independence—the crossing of the ice-clogged, storm-swept Delaware River, culminating in a surprise attack on Trenton, New Jersey. Nothing less than the future of this newly-declared republic rested on its successful outcome.
The challenges were overwhelming. Many of General Washington’s troops were ill, low on food, poorly clothed, and suffering through one of the bitterest winters on record. Outnumbered and pressed to the limits of human endurance, the American Army was not fit to take on the professional British Army and its Hessian allies, warmly encamped across the Delaware. So remote and unthinkable was such audacity that complacency and lowered guards gave rise to opportunity.
As General Nathaniel Greene described him, Washington “. . . never appeared to so much advantage as in the hour of distress.” That would have aptly described the entire Continental Army that Christmas Eve. Within 24 hours, at midnight on the 25th of December, 1776, Washington executed the crossing of the Delaware, and the rest is history: Washington’s “brilliant stroke” tipped the scales in the War for Independence.
From that Christmas of 1776, American men and women in uniform have spent many Christmases on battlefields in Europe, Africa, throughout the Pacific; on the Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam; and from Kuwait to Iraq and Afghanistan.
This season, we gather with our families and friends in a Nation free to celebrate in the custom of our choosing, by whatever name or tradition it is known, thanks to the long and unbroken line of patriots whose courage and sacrifice continue to secure the blessings of freedom and liberty upon our grateful Nation.
To our 23 million Veterans, to our 298,000 VA employees, and to our men and women of the Armed Forces so far from home, we send best wishes for a joyous Holiday Season and heartfelt thanks for the selflessness of your service.