Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader urged the Bush administration to take protective health measures for troops sent to the Middle East at the National Press Club Thursday.
The news conference included seven other speakers, including Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich), discussed U.S. troops’ inadequate protection against nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare. They also stressed the fact that a lack of blood serum testing will severely impede the ability to assess soldiers’ exposure to different types of warfare.
Nader said the Army has known about the defective equipment since 1989, when the Pentagon initially made the purchase.
“It’s the issue of readiness in the face of an attack,” Nader said.
According a report by the U.S. Army Audit Agency from November 2001, “Army managers didn’t establish effective surveillance and oversight programs to make sure Army forces adequately maintained fielded chemical and biological defensive equipment.” It further stated that during the Gulf War, up to 90 percent of monitors and 62 percent of gas masks were either partially or entirely non-operational.
Executive Director of the National Gulf War Resource Center Stephen L. Robinson said that while these numbers have improved since the Gulf War, there will still be troops who receive the faulty equipment.
“The Department of Defense would rather give you the spin than the facts,” Robinson said, in response to the agency’s attempt to explain the status of the troops’ equipment.
Author and four-year Army veteran during the 1990s Christian Bauman said he believe that soldiers in the Gulf “stand in harm’s way” because of “faulty equipment.”
Robinson discussed the more long-term effects of exposure to biological, chemical and nuclear warfare, in conjunction with the Gulf War Syndrome. He said that more than 307,000 veterans from the Gulf War have sought medical treatment and compensation from Veterans Affairs for complications that arose after being exposed to biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
Robinson said that the Defense Department has, up until very recently, claimed that the veterans’ illnesses were stress induced, despite medical evidence that proves otherwise.
“Soldiers are not pawns of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” he said.
Chemical and biological weapons expert Dr. Jonathan Tucker said that soldiers will undoubtedly be exposed to substances that Iraq used in the Gulf War and the Iran-Iraq War. These include nerve agents and sulfur mustard, along with depleted Uranium-238, left over from the Gulf War, which is highly radioactive. Additionally, the sulfur mustard can, in dusty forms, exploit weak points in protective suits.
Tucker said that even low-level exposure to these substances can cause extremely long-term health risks.
Robinson stressed that the best way to provide treatment for these types of exposures is by testing the soldiers before, during, and after deployment.
He said that by conducting mental screenings and blood serum evaluations, doctors can more efficiently identify and treat illnesses similar to those associated with the Gulf War Syndrome.
Additionally, Conyers said that he will urge congress to act immediately.
“This is not complex science or politics,” he said. “It is just trying to figure out just how badly the situation has been handled, and how we plan to fix it.”