April 19, 2006

The Unspoken Casualties From Iraq

Army Captain Chaplain Fran E. Stuart. (click for larger version)
Soldiers are dying and getting maimed at a sickening clip in Iraq, but there other are untold hazards — debilitating and life threatening illnesses and diseases the government refuses to acknowledge even exist.

Army Captain Chaplain Fran E. Stuart is one example. She is a 40 year-old woman hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"There is an octopus inside of me wrapping its tentacles around every organ," she said woefully. This inner vine was Stage IV Dysgerminoma Cancer. Before her tour of duty in Iraq began in March 2003, a complete physical revealed no signs of illness.

When she was diagnosed with cancer upon her return, Stuart immediately suspected her one year term in Iraq was the culprit. At the beginning of January it spontaneously appeared. She began feeling tired, bloated, and had an unusual feeling of fullness.

The symptoms gathered momentum and within four weeks the condition sent her to the doctors in Germany, where she was assigned after her stint in Iraq. They assumed she had a blockage in her colon and prescribed her colon cleansers. After an ineffective treatment she returned to them with complaints and they ordered an MRI, diagnosing a large tumor in her abdomen.

The final blow for Stuart came when her medical records revealed she had Stage IV Ovarian Cancer. "I'm only 40 years-old, I'm too young to meet my maker. I'll be 41 on Wednesday. I need more memories. I don't have enough yet!" she wailed in horror. Ironically, it was almost three years ago to the day since she was deployed to Iraq.

Once at Walter Reed, Stuart concluded the sudden onset of cancer was a result of a combination of things she endured in Iraq.

And she wasn't alone. The beds of the hospital were filled with victims, and they all suspected the same culprits. The anthrax vaccine they were given, the depleted Uranium the bombs were filled with, and the contaminated water the soldiers cooked with and bathed in were believe to be making the troops sick.

The water was supposed to be filtered and treated by a Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown, and Root, which was also in charge of feeding the troops. But even the company's own employees acknowledged the company wasn't fulfilling its contractual obligations.

Until March 2005 the soldiers said they were exposed to bacteria and viruses that flourished in the filthy waters in the base camps. Those that used it — and Stuart was one — were stricken with cancers, and impaired immune systems. Some have a blood disease, MRSA positive, a bacteria immune to most antibiotics. It is known to spread rapidly, causing multiple organ failure.

The doctors at Walter Reed began what they thought was a routine biopsy on Stuart, instead she began to bleed, so they opened up her abdomen and removed a tumor (the size of a volleyball), her left ovary, and appendix. They left behind three tumors, one wrapped around her colon, another around her aorta artery, and another around her kidney. Because of the precarious placement of the tumor on her aorta artery, they feared a removal could result in a rupture to the valve and cause a major bleed. At the time they suspected Ovarian Cancer or Lymphoma, but after the lab results, they confirmed Dysgerminoma, called the Germ Cancer. The doctors were baffled as to the type since she didn't fit the profile. They asked her if she was pregnant because her hormones were elevated and she replied, "Not unless it's an immaculate conception."

The ordeal has made her weak and tired; trying to force down a few tablespoons of food is a chore. Her breathing is challenged, possibly the result of the pneumonia that lingered in the lower lobe of her lung, or the cancer. She can feel the three tumors inside her.

As the days unfolded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Stuart found her case was anything but rare. Soldiers of all ages were being brought back daily from Iraq with rare forms of cancer of the brain, lungs, and testes. They were all exposed to something very toxic, a carcinogen, perhaps something in the water, or something in the vaccine, or something in the food or something in the soil. Something in Iraq.

Despite the scores of personal cases Stuart has come to learn about, and the tens of thousands reported all over the country, the government by and large denies any correlation between the cancers and the war, as they did during the first Gulf War.

Studies of the health of Gulf War veterans have yet to produce clear answers to questions regarding the links between service in the first war and subsequent health problems.

A 2003 study in the medical journal Neurology found that veterans of the Gulf War were nearly twice as likely to have developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gherig's disease) than military personnel deployed elsewhere during the same period. A 2001 federally-funded report published in the Annals of Epidemiology found that Gulf veterans were two to three times more likely to report having children born with birth defects, as compared to veterans who did not serve in Persian Gulf. A follow-up analysis of the medical records of the participants to check the self-reported data in the study is underway.

A link between cancer and service in the Gulf War remains elusive. A 2003 study of 50,000 British soldiers deployed during the Gulf War and 50,000 military personnel who were not deployed to the region found the incidence of cancer in both groups to be the same. According to the analysis, published in the British Medical Journal, "the risk of cancer was not related to multiple vaccinations or exposure to pesticides or depleted uranium during deployment."

There is also an epidemic of cancer among children in Iraq.

As for the contaminated water, Hallibuton claimed it "had found no evidence to substantiate allegations" even though two of its own employees acknowledged widespread use of the untreated water. And while Kellogg, Brown and Root was paid hundreds of millions of dollars to purify it, they allowed soldiers to use filthy water contaminated with human waste to cook and shower with. Thus far, the government has paid Halliburton over $16 billion for its work in Iraq.

During the course of correspondence from across the states and over into Iraq and Afghanistan with her former 526 Battalion of the 101st Airborne, Stuart has discovered others have recently had bouts of cancer. The pieces to the puzzle fit into place as the truth about what the soldiers are being exposed to in Iraq begins to emerge wearing a mask of cancer, illness, and disease — the unspoken casualties of the war in Iraq.

R. B. Stuart and Fran E. Stuart are sisters. Next week R. B. files another report from Walter Reed Hospital.

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