Unit Member Says ‘Fighting 69th’ Victimized by Depleted Uranium
Soldier says military ignores soldiers made gravely ill by tours in Iraq
By Mark Anderson
Sgt. Stanford Mendenhall is a member of the U.S. Army’s famed “Fighting 69th” Battalion who’s marooned at home with a variety of serious illnesses—while struggling to stay alive.
But for this soldier, the mother of all battles is taking place stateside, not in the distant sands of Iraq where powerful sandstorms blow around all manner of filth and toxins, as Mendenhall experienced directly.
The Suffolk County, N.Y. soldier understands that a number of other members of his battalion are a lot like him: Once supremely healthy, only to serve in Iraq and come home physically and psychologically shattered from innumerable illnesses that are both hard to explain and virtually impossible to treat.
Mendenhall and his wife, Linda, strongly suspect that a significant cause is depleted uranium exposure in the Iraq war. The same culprit is suspected in the cancer deaths of young soldiers in their 20s, as reported by AFP last year.
Almost at a total loss on what to do to help her husband—given the apparent unwillingness of the allegedly hostile military chain of command to help him—Linda explained their plight to American Free Press. He can’t work, she’s working full-time, money is scarce and, aside from sundry exams and some back surgery, the soldier claimed he has gone more than two years without proper medical care since leaving the battle theater.
Mendenhall—who’s now 45, having left Iraq in 2005 after just one year—has a number of vexing health problems. He said his problems started with persistent and severe back and chest pain. and that he now has chronic lung granuloma (sometimes linked to TB); along with pulmonary hypertension, osteoporosis, low testosterone and a metabolic bone disease that befuddled doctors at theMayo Clinic.
Blacks such as Mendenhall rarely get osteoporosis, he said, and it does not run in his family. His wife said he started out with the less severe osterperia but that it remarkably became full-blown osteoporosis in about one year, from 2006-07.
The Mayo doctors felt they could not treat Mendenhall and advised he get medical treatment from the Veterans Administration (VA) or a specialized military hospital such as Walter Reed.
Depleted uranium, or DU, first was widely used as a weapons component by U.S. forces in the First Gulf War. It’s an ultra-dense metallic substance that’s used defensively in armor, and is extensively used as a super-hard penetrating agent on the tip of explosive rounds to easily demolish armored vehicles and other hardened targets. Its detonation by U.S. forces, however, exposes combatants on both sides as well as civilians
to radioactive fragments and aerosols, among other types of toxic fallout. It is dangerous and must be handled according to strict guidelines.
When widely used, it can contaminate soil and water, and can be ingested by unprotected troops and other people via the skin, through the lungs, open wounds etc. Other health hazards for soldiers cannot be written off. They include experimental vaccines, insecticides, diseasebearing pests etc.
Linda recalled how healthy her husband was all his life, until he served in Iraq in the infantry. She remembers him dashing out the door in the morning to work as a letter carrier.
He did heavy lifting all the time. “He was one of those people who didn’t even need an aspirin,” she said. Today, however, Mendenhall, who served in the Army a total of 22 years but has not been discharged, can hardly lift a thing. A tumor developed on a fracture on his back. He and his wife also must struggle with a military establishment whose chain of command makes him attend Medical Evaluation Board meetings that assess his status for possible disability-payment authorization down the road. But they have not given him “line of duty” status that could get him on an express lane to a proper military medical facility.
Then there is the “polite” brush-off the Mendenhalls have repeatedly received from Sen. Hillary Clinton (DN.Y.) when the former first lady’s legislative office was asked to help Mendenhall get the right treatment.Much the same from Sen. Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) office: Apparent
“concern” expressed in returned calls, amid claims legislators “cannot tell the military what to do.”
The Mendenhalls have approached several private hospitals but were told that treatment must be obtained at military facilities. The run-around never seems to stop. Linda said she has placed 600 phone calls to Joseph J. Taluto, the adjutant general of the New York Army National Guard in Albany.
The purpose was to inquire about transportation, medical referral to Walter Reed, and incapacitation-pay issues. She said she sent Taluto 50 certified letters.
But Taluto—whose position puts him just under the governor in charge of New York National Guard units—allegedly never responded. Other military bureaucrats are said to have intervened to cancel appointments.
“They told us that the whole battalion was contaminated with DU,” Linda said, referring to a Family Readiness Group meeting (routinely assembled for all deployed battalions to meet with spouses and parents of soldiers).
Linda said her husband, with whom she has had four children, at times seems like he could pass away. But they don’t know what else to do—other than keep fighting. This is no longer the so-called “war on terror,” which was sparked by the 9-11-01 attacks. Instead, the war is here, against the very establishment for which the soldiers enlisted to fight.
American Free Press reporter Mark Anderson can be reached via email at email@example.com
(Issue #4, January 28, 2008)