Gulf War veterans say they faced chemical attacks

July 01, 1993|By Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON -- Two Persian Gulf War veterans told a Senate subcommittee yesterday they were subjected to separate Iraqi chemical attacks in January 1991 and ordered by their commanders to keep silent.

Navy reservist Sterling Symms and Army National Guardsman Willie Hicks, both of Birmingham, Ala., said they have suffered a variety of health problems since the attacks and have gotten scant medical assistance from the government.

"I think this is Vietnam all over again," said Mr. Hicks, who is also a veteran of that war. "I've been completely forgotten."

Messrs. Hicks and Symms testified at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on military medical issues. The panel also heard similar criticisms from a third gulf veteran, Army Sgt. Kerry Riegle.

Vice Adm. Donald Hagen, the Navy surgeon general, said the military had investigated the alleged chemical attacks and could not substantiate them.

"We are not aware of any chemical exposure to these people," he said after the hearing.

Thousands of gulf veterans have reported developing chronic fatigue, severe joint pains, hair loss, skin rashes and other symptoms since their return home.

The subcommittee chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, D-Ala., expressed dismay at the lack of treatment alleged by the veterans. "We've got to have some answers," he said.

Top health officials of the Defense Department, Army, Navy and Air Force said they have identified 67 active-duty personnel with "Persian Gulf Syndrome." They insisted that they are not ignoring medical complaints.

"Do we think that there are more? Yes," said Rear Adm. Edward Martin, the acting assistant secretary of defense for health matters. "[But] the extent of it is difficult to estimate."

Lt. Gen. Alcide LaNoue, the Army surgeon general, said that other than about 30 confirmed cases of a blood parasite disease, he was baffled by the reported ailments.

"I don't understand what's going on here," he said.

The incidents detailed by Messrs. Symms and Hicks occurred in the early morning hours of Jan. 17 and Jan. 20, 1991, near Jubail, Saudi Arabia. Both men said their units were awakened by loud explosions, followed by the wailing of chemical-attack sirens. They said they were ordered to don chemical protective gear and enter bunkers.

"There was a high odor of ammonia in the air," Mr. Symms said.

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