Depleted Uranium Kills Indiscriminately
By Christopher Bollyn
ORMOND BEACH, Florida—An alarmingly high percentage of U.S. military personnel who have served in Iraq have been afflicted by a variety of health problems commonly known as Gulf War Syndrome. Exposure to uranium spread through the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons is thought to be the primary cause of the high rate of chronic ailments and mortality among Gulf War vets.
While initial casualties from the first U.S. invasion of Iraq were light, long-term casualties from the 1991 war ultimately exceeded 30 percent, according to Terrell E. Arnold, former Chairman of the Department of International Studies at the National War College. The long-term casualty rate from the current war in Iraq, Arnold says, is likely to be much higher.
Official statistics of killed and wounded from the 15-year long war against Iraq do not reflect the veterans whose service-related injuries only become apparent after they return from Iraq. The official death rate of those killed and wounded in Iraq does not include these vets, many of whom suffer slow and painful deaths as a direct result of their service. Dustin Brim was one of them.
Lori Brim lost Dustin, her only child, when he died at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington at the age of 22 on Sept. 24, 2004, after a six-month battle with what was eventually diagnosed as Non-Hodgkins Diffuse Large Cell B Type Lymphoma. When Mrs. Brim asked the doctors how her young, healthy, strong son had contracted cancer all they would say was “bad luck.”
Her caseworker and nurses at the hospital were more forthcoming with information. At different times during the six months nurses would take Mrs. Brim aside and urge her off the record to do some research on DU.
Asked whose idea it was for Dustin to join the Army in summer 2002, Mrs. Brim said, “It was mine.”
As a single mother, Mrs. Brim had approached an Army recruiter out of concern for the well-being of her son. She thought the Army would be good for her son by giving him some discipline and direction.
Dustin had not wanted to join the Army, his mother said. But Dustin was never meant to be in a war zone, she added. The U.S. Army recruiter had promised her, that as her only child, he would not be sent to war.
Mechanically inclined, Dustin became an Army mechanic, an E-4 specialist serving in the 1st Maintenance Company under the 541st Maintenance Battalion from Fort Riley, Kan., and was deployed to Iraq in August 2003.
Dustin’s work in Iraq involved working on disabled Army vehicles, including tanks, which his unit repaired and retrieved, or if damaged beyond repair, destroyed with explosives on the spot. Most of these vehicles, having been in the battlefield, would have been heavily laden with DU and other toxins.
Dr. Doug Rokke, former director of the U.S. Army’s Depleted Uranium Project, said that mechanics like Dustin are not properly prepared or protected to be working on DU contaminated vehicles.
Mrs. Brim said that her son had not even been equipped with a pair of gloves, let alone a mask or protective garb. The Army’s failure to inform and instruct its personnel about the dangers of DU exposure is one of Rokke’s main concerns.
At Christmas 2003, Dustin surprised his parents with a visit home. It was the last time Mrs. Brim would see her son in a healthy condition. A photo of Dustin taken in Iraq in February 2004 shows him smiling and strong.
In early March, however, Dustin began to complain of abdominal pains. He went to the doctors on his base 11 times during the month complaining of severe pain and constipation that lasted for weeks. He was sent back to his job and told to “work it out.”
During the last two weeks of March, he wrote to his mother telling her that his pain was unbearable.
On March 31 he passed out from pain and breathlessness. His sergeant happened to be with him and took him to the doctors who thought he had gall bladder problems and sent him to the hospital in Baghdad. The next day, April 1, was Dustin’s 22nd birthday. After being assessed and heavily drugged, the doctors allowed him to call home to tell his mother that he had cancer.
In Baghdad, the doctors had discovered that Dustin had a huge cancerous tumor on his esophagus, which severely restricted his breathing, a collapsed lung, the loss of a kidney, numerous blood clots and a tumor progressing on his liver. The doctors could not believe that Dustin had been turned away so many times for medical help and still manage to endure as long as he did in his magnitude of pain while carrying an 80-pound pack on his back, his mother said. Dustin was flown to the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and then to Walter Reed Hospital.
“The story of Dustin Brim is just one more avoidable tragedy of our insane use of uranium munitions,” Rokke said.
“When I lost Dustin, I lost myself,” Mrs. Brim said. “This is something that should not have happened. There is something going on but no one wants to talk about it on the record. I am sharing my son’s story with you in the hope that perhaps it will make a difference.”
(Issue #6, February 6, 2006)