Veterans, non-smokers dying of lung cancer
Updated: Sunday, 30 Dec 2012, 10:57 PM EST
Published : Sunday, 30 Dec 2012, 10:57 PM EST
Published : Sunday, 30 Dec 2012, 10:57 PM EST
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - A second Indiana congressman is taking action after an I-Team 8 investigation exposed the government may be knowingly turning its back on thousands of Gulf War veterans with cancer.
Karen Hensel exposed the investigation that has now prompted troops from here to Afghanistan to be tested for lung cancer.
It was a cancer predicted during the Gulf War by top scientists from several countries. Now 20 years veterans, non smokers, are dying of lung cancer. I-Team 8 went to Washington asking why?
INDIANA MARINE BATTLES
At the center of the battle is Indiana State Trooper and Marine Col. Mark Smith. He says, "Now it's game on. Now its the fight. That part I can understand."
Col. Mark Smith is a hardcore Marine. A battalion commander, he led 1,200 Marines into the deepest battles of the Iraq war. This time the fight is not against terrorists in Iraq. The enemy is lung cancer. Smith tells his pulmonologist Dr. Peter Garrett "Hey, a colonel in the Marine Corps can give orders. I can take orders."
He no longer fights alongside Marines. He has a new team. Smith says, "The wings these people wear that nobody sees because they are unbelievable." He is no longer the commander, but rather he is the patient 20 years after the Gulf War.
24-Hour News 8's original I-Team 8 investigation prompted immediate action from Indiana Congressman Marlin Stutzman who is a member of the House Veteran's Affairs Committee. Within days, he sent this letter to the VA and DOD demanding answers on government "response and policies." Why aren't veterans being notified they are at higher risk of lung cancer and why aren't they being aggressively screened?
When civilian doctors found a blood clot in Smith's leg they immediately ordered a CT scan. While the VA has been urged to offer CT screenings for veterans at high risk for lung cancer, so far the VA has not implemented it, relying solely on the less efficient x-rays.
There may be tens of thousands like Mark Smith unaware of the lung cancer battle waging in their chest. In 1991, Mark deployed with the 3/24 Marines to Saudi Arabia. He was stationed near the infamous Kuwaiti oil well fires some scientists likened to a "petroleum Chernobyl". The skies were black during the day. Black gunk would run from their noses. Doctors warned then cancer would appear 20 years later.
Two of Smiths doctors--one now and one then--say it appears his deployment 20 years ago could be the origin. Dr. Garrett confirms to I-Team 8 "He certainly had exposure." In 1998 Dr. Robert Daly documents: he spent "substantial time in the military in Saudi Arabia and was exposed to oil fires. Mark's dyspnea (shortness of breath) is somewhat puzzling."
24-Hour News 8's cameras have spent six months documenting how a Marine commander, always prepared, battles cancer. During treatment Smith told 24-Hour News 8, "This is just something I was completely and utterly unprepared for. The Marine Corps steels you."
Our cameras were there as Smith underwent his first day of treatment. He called it "awesome" and lifted his shirt to show the box that marks the treatment. Day after day he undergoes both radiation and chemo. Long, hard, grueling treatments.
While undergoing chemotherapy, he shows his Battlebook saying "This is just the Marine Corps way." But the Marine Battlebook is replaced by Mark's Cancer Battlebook of appointments, notes and reminders. Smith says, "Someone tells you you have cancer, I don't care who you are. Your first thought is I'm dead. That's the stigma that comes with the disease. You have no idea there are the Dr. Garretts and the Dr. Meyers out there doing the things they are doing."
MARK'S NEW TEAM
Before treatment, there are moments of quiet reflection. Once it is time to go back, our microphone comes off. The box on his chest is highlighted as he lies on the machine. Mark may be by himself in the room, but he is never alone. Doctors and staff watch and wait as the barrage of radiation attacks the cancer cells. Smith is emotional as he reveals, "I've walked among giants in the Marine Corps. Guys books will be written about. This 100 pound female doctor stands as tall as any one of them."
He's talking about oncologist Dr. Meyer. Grateful to the doctors, nurses and technicians he thanked each one not as a patient, but as a Marine with a US Marine challenge coin. Semper Fi. Always Faithful.
One Marine, one patient "Always Faithful".
But has the government been faithful to the troops deployed early in the Gulf War? It took the VA several months to respond to questions from I-Team 8.
We were told "The VA is continuing to systematically study the long term health mortality experience of Gulf War veterans". While they "found a slight increase in lung cancer" shortly after the 1990-1991 conflict, the response stated "a significantly greater proportion of deployed smoke cigarettes".
Col. Smith never smoked.
SECOND CONGRESSMAN WANTS ANSWERS
How many others are there? That's what Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita is also asking after seeing our investigation. In a letter to the VA Secretary he wants a "clear explanation of what action" is being taken and "What preventative measures are being taken".
Consider it took 11 years for the cancers of 911 to finally be documented. Even more were at risk 20 years ago and still no action has been taken.
We heard from many veterans-non smokers-with lung cancer who also served in Desert Storm.
We also heard from those concerned. 24-Hour News 8 is posting the research on CT scans on our website so you can talk with your doctor. Those links can be found under the News tab at Web Link 8 .