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Fwd: [msvets] Ailing Veterans Blame Their Ms On Gulf War

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Subject: [MSVETS] Ailing Veterans Blame their MS on Gulf War

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Ailing veterans blame their MS on Gulf War

Their mission now is to spread the word about other illnesses



On a morning at Westlake Center, they were a couple of wives and moms

spending quality time downtown, meeting at a coffee shop to catch up

on their lives.

Yet Julie Mock, 38, of Woodinville and Elizabeth Burris, 50, of

Tacoma are also sisters-in-arms, exposed accidentally to deadly nerve

gases. As veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, they are among

perhaps 450 men and women across the country who blame their multiple

sclerosis on that war's poisonous stew.

Though overshadowed by today's costlier war in Iraq, Persian Gulf War

veterans are still taking casualties.

Of the 700,000 U.S. troops who served there in 1991, a

disproportionate number experienced serious neurological disorders.

More than 65 percent have sought health care for service-related

ailments. Nearly 200,000 are receiving disability compensation --

twice the rate as vets from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The federal government this summer began notifying about 300,000

veterans of the latest neurological problem linked to service in Iraq

in 1991 -- brain cancer. It was the third time the government had

warned veterans about neurological problems.

Brain-cancer death joined amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly

known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and fibromyalgia among the attacks

upon nervous systems stemming from the Gulf War.

In addition, Mock says, "The rate of multiple sclerosis is rising

among Gulf War veterans. ... Our population of veterans is becoming

increasingly ill and, after years of pushing onward, are finding

ourselves too ill to work."

Mock and Burris qualified for service-connected disabilities with

multiple sclerosis because they documented their symptoms within a

seven-year window after their honorable discharges. They are

concerned about many more veterans, however, who fall outside that

window. "There is a higher percentage of male Gulf War veterans than

women, and men don't typically go to the doctor as quickly as women,"

Mock says.

The two credit having their disease declared service-related with

being near a Veterans Affairs "Center of Excellence" for multiple

sclerosis in Seattle, one of three in the nation. The other two are

in Portland and Baltimore.

What's needed, they say, is a serious outreach effort and review of

cases to encompass veterans who live elsewhere.

"Some of our folks are so broken down that they can't think straight

for themselves. If there are no family members to help, they get lost

in the system," Burris says.

A former Army corporal during Desert Storm, Mock today is president

of a lobby and information clearinghouse, National Gulf War Veterans

Resource Center Inc.

Burris, a former Army captain, is a co-founder with Ed Butler of

Missouri, a former Army nurse who now has multiple sclerosis, of the

MSVets Web site on Yahoogroups.com.

"I would like to see an honest records-review of all those cases, and

to look again at fibromyalgia cases with neurological examinations,"

says Burris. A catchall condition of musculoskeletal pain and

fatigue, fibromyalgia is suspected of masking cases of multiple


MS involves an attack upon the central nervous system. Myelin, the

protective covering that allows nerves to do their job, is destroyed.

In its place is left scar tissue called sclerosis that results in a

diverse range of painful, debilitating and baffling symptoms.

To fight chronic fatigue from their conditions, MS sufferers take

Ritalin, a stimulant.

The problem is determining when MS stems from environmental or other


Dr. Steven Hunt, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs

Deployment Health Clinic in Seattle and at American Lake in Pierce

County, is sympathetic to the veterans' needs but also cautions that

it is difficult for researchers to establish relationships between

diseases and exposure with absolute certainty.

"Veterans in combat who were exposed to any kind of environmental

(toxins) need to be followed long term, not just when they come back

for a few years," he says.

For Mock, the statistical evidence is plain and personal. Three of 36

soldiers who served in detachments nearby in Iraq have been diagnosed

with multiple sclerosis and one is ill with an undiagnosed condition.

Nationally, one in every 700 people has the disease.

"The (chemical) alarms went off but no one did anything. We just

stood there in shirtsleeves. You couldn't see the plume. It was just

a mist," Mock recalls of the day she was exposed.

In August, the American Journal of Public Health published a study on

thousands of troops who were exposed to the nerve agents sarin and

cyclosarin in March 1991 when U.S. forces blew up two Iraqi

ammunition caches at Al Khamisiyah.

The study, commissioned by the Pentagon and conducted by the

Institute of Medicine, concluded that troops exposed to the plumes

from the burning caches were twice as likely to die from brain cancer

as those who were not exposed.

The military has been contacting 300,000 veterans exposed in the

hazard area, including soldiers who served 14 years ago with several

medical units from Fort Lewis.

Mock and Burris never served together, either overseas or in the Fort

Lewis medical units. They became acquainted two years ago when Burris

invited Mock to a Seattle conference for Gulf War veterans. "I was

shocked to find so many people feeling like I felt, using canes. Just

a roomful of what seemed like aged people," Mock said.

Both women were energetic before and during their service. After

1991, their strength waned. Joints seemed to disintegrate, becoming

rheumatic and inflamed. There were night sweats, red-hot tingling

sensations, headaches that lasted a week and sensitivity to heat and


In Iraq, Burris had commanded a truck company refueling U.S. Marines

on missions that exposed her to toxins in and out of the Al

Khamisiyah plume.

Her list of environmental suspects includes not only the cloud but

also disease-carrying sand fleas, mandatory inoculations against

chemical and biological weapons and burning oil wells with choking

smoke that blocked the sun for days.

Depleted uranium dust, harmful when inhaled or ingested, or even the

phosgene poison gas that can be given off by Teflon in armor burning

at high temperatures, are also on her list. When she returned home

from Iraq, Burris says, "I just knew something was wrong, an inner

voice thing."

Her husband, Clarence, a former Navy officer, said she seemed

completely changed. "I believe I was totally poisoned. I was horribly

chemically sensitive. I couldn't go into stores with a lot of

plastics or new buildings. I would feel horribly sick," she says.

Mock, meanwhile, was an Army dental hygienist serving 30 miles from

Iraq's southern border. She never saw the burning oil wells nor was

she near depleted uranium. Her unit, however, was within the Al

Khasimiyah plume.

"A lot of us began having rashes when we were still in Iraq," recalls


The U.S. military at first did not believe the destroyed Iraqi

munitions caches contained chemical weapons. United Nations weapons

inspectors later found sarin was in Iraqi rockets there.

Mock, who left the Army in December 1991, attributed spontaneous

rashes to the harsh desert environment until her hair began to fall

out in clumps. Her stamina over the next three years steadily

decreased. Limbs went numb. On occasion, Mock wears a leg brace when

MS causes her foot to drop. Her need to rest, while also trying to be

a mom, "was simply debilitating," she says.

"It's amazing the impact this has had on my life," Mock says. "It

altered my future. Our family used to do things like hike together.

Now I lag behind everyone. My older son remembers when I could do

those things. Now he's angry."

After serving in the Army off and on since 1973, Burris left to

become an occupational therapist in 1995. Fatigue cut short her

career. Burris now works a few hours occasionally to keep her license

current. She also keeps active by sewing quilts for wounded soldiers

from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While harboring strength to help rear a family, Mock channels her

fury into a force within the Gulf War veterans resource center, the

Paralyzed Veterans of America and other efforts.

"It's anger that keeps me going," she says. "I've got to do something

constructive with it. Nobody is standing up for us."


To reach Julie Mock and Elizabeth Burris, write:



For a list of military units considered to have been exposed to the

Al Khamisiyah sarin plume in 1991, which includes several medical

groups that were from Fort Lewis, see


For information about the recent Institute of Medicine study of brain

cancer deaths in Gulf War veterans and help with health issues, see


P-I reporter Mike Barber can be reached at 206-448-8018 or




Visit your group "MSVETS" on the web.

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