DU Syndrome Stricken Vets Denied Care
Pentagon Hides DU Dangers to Deny Medical Care to Vets
Far from the radioactive battlefields of Iraq and
Afghanistan, another war is being waged. This war, over the use of depleted
uranium (DU) weapons, is being fought between the military top brass and the
men who understand the dangers of DU: former military doctors and nuclear
This war is for the truth about uranium weapons,
and the consequences of their use, and has been waged for more than 13
years—since the U.S. government first used DU weapons against Iraq. Most
Americans, however, are unaware of this historic struggle, because the Pentagon
has used its power to prevent information about DU from reaching the public.
John Hanchette, editor of USA Today from
1991 to 2001, in a recent interview with anti-DU activist Leuren Moret, said he
had written several news stories about the effects of DU on gulf wars veterans.
Every time he was ready to publish a story about the devastating illnesses
afflicting soldiers, however, the Pentagon called USA Today and pressured
him not to publish the story. Hanchette was eventually replaced as editor and
now teaches journalism to college students.
Dr. Doug Rokke, 37-year Army veteran and former
director of the Army’s Depleted Uranium Project, has become an outspoken “warrior
for peace” in the war against DU weapons. Rokke is fighting for medical care
for all people exposed to DU: active soldiers, veterans and civilians,
including Iraqis, and for “remediation” or cleansing of all DU-contaminated
“Anyone who demands medical care and environmental
remediation faces ongoing and blatant retaliation,” Rokke told AFP. “Anybody
who speaks up—their career ends.”
During Gulf War I, Rokke was theater health
physicist with the 12th Preventive Medicine Command professional staff and
served on three special operations teams. Rokke and members of his teams were
exposed to large amounts of uranium during recovery of U.S. tanks and armored
vehicles mistakenly hit by DU weapons.
Today, Rokke is fighting to get the Pentagon to
abide by its regulations regarding care for individuals exposed to uranium and
remediation of contaminated areas.
The military records of one of Rokke’s comrades,
who suffers from the effects of DU exposure, have been completely “gutted” from
Army archives, Rokke told AFP.
“They [defense officials] willfully ignore
existing Department of Defense directives that require prompt and effective
medical care be provided to ‘all’ exposed individuals,” Rokke says.
Rokke points to a U.S. Army Medical Command memo
dated April 29, 2004, from Lt. Gen. James B. Peake about medical management of
Army personnel exposed to DU. The memo, which says “all personnel with actual
or potential exposures to DU will be identified, assessed, treated (if needed),
and assigned a potential exposure level (I, II, or III),” reiterates the U.S.
Army regulations originally written by Rokke in 1991, he said.
“A radio bioassay has to be done within a few days
of exposure,” Rokke said. “This means nasal and pharyngeal swabs being taken
and 24-hour urine and fecal analysis.
“Today,” Rokke writes, “although medical problems
continue to develop, medical care is denied or delayed for all uranium-exposed
casualties while Defense Department and British Ministry of Defense officials
continue to deny any correlation between uranium exposure and adverse health
and environmental effects.”
Rokke said the individuals at the Department of
Defense are engaged in a “criminal” conspiracy to deny the toxicity of DU
weapons. “The lies by senior Defense Department officials are designed to
sustain use of uranium munitions and avoid liability for adverse health and
environmental effects,” he said. According to Rokke, a recent Gulf War
Review reported that only 262 vets had been treated for DU poisoning
through September 2003.
The military’s strategy of lies and concealment
about DU began in March 1991, shortly after the first widespread combat use of
DU weapons by the U.S. government in Iraq, Rokke said.
On March 1, 1991, Lt. Col. Michael V. Ziehmn of
Los Alamos National Lab wrote a memo about the effectiveness of DU penetrators.
The “future existence” of DU weapons should be ensured by active “proponency”
by the Department of Defense, Ziehmn wrote.
“If proponency is not garnered, it is possible
that we stand to lose a valuable combat capability,” Ziehmn wrote. “I believe
we should keep this sensitive issue at mind when after-action reports are
When American Free Press began this series
on DU weapons, the U.S. Army alerted the Centers for Disease Control, an
Atlanta-based agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The CDC is going to do a whitewash on DU,” Marion
Fulk, a former nuclear chemical physicist at Lawrence Livermore Lab, said. Fulk
told AFP he had received this information directly from CDC officials.
AFP asked Stephanie C. Creel of the CDC about its
position on the toxicity of DU. Creel said the CDC’s Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) on-line “fact sheet” would provide the
“most in-depth information” on the subject.
The ATSDR fact sheet: “The radiation damage from
exposure to high levels of natural or depleted uranium are [sic] not known to
“No apparent public health hazard,” the CDC
assessment of Livermore lab, published June 29, said about local exposure
levels to tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, Fulk said.
“It’s nonsense,” Fulk said. “It’s been dumped all
around the area. It goes through glass and steel.”
Depleted uranium is a misnomer, according to Fulk.
Depleted uranium, mostly U-238, is uranium that has had the naturally occurring
fissile material, U-235, removed. DU is very radioactive, however. While one
gram of U-235 emits 81,000 alpha particles per second, U-238 emits 12,000 per
second. These high-energy particles coming from DU particles lodged in the body
cause the most damage, according to Fulk and others.
“Depleted uranium dust that is inhaled gets
transferred from the lungs to the regional lymph nodes, where they can bombard
a small number of cells in their immediate vicinity with intense alpha
radiation,” said Dr. Asaf Durakovic, former Pentagon expert on DU.
Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), a
defense contractor in San Diego, published an extensive article about the
dangers of DU six months before President George H.W. Bush waged war against
Iraq in 1991.
“Under combat conditions, the most exposed
individuals are probably the ground troops [who] re-enter a battlefield
following the exchange of armor-piercing (DU) munitions,” SAIC published in its
July 1990 magazine.
“Short-term effects of high doses can result in
death, while long-term effects of low doses have been implicated in cancer,”
AFP submitted written questions to the U.S. Army
Medical Command asking how the Army can claim that DU exposure is harmless when
military documents have stressed its lethal toxicity.
Mark A. Melanson, of the Army’s Center for Health
Promotion and Preventive Medicine in Aberdeen, Md., responded in an email: “The
two positions are not opposing. As with all potentially hazardous material, the
amount determines the risk.”
Melanson wrote that the Army was complying with
its own regulations regarding medical care for DU exposure, saying: “Soldiers
are being screened by completing the post deployment health questionnaire upon
demobilization. Troops identified as being at potential risk for DU exposure
are directed to provide a urine bioassay for analysis.”
Rokke said: “That is too late. Hence they find a
AFP repeatedly tried to speak to Melanson about
the quantity of DU that the Army considered hazardous. He did not return phone
“An individual could [safely] breathe in up to a
gram per year every year for 50 years,” Melanson recently told The New York
“That’s absolutely absurd,” Fulk said. Fulk said
the number of alpha particle emissions from a gram of DU lodged in the body
over a year would be about the same as one-10th of all the cells in his body.
The inhaled DU particles have a tendency to bind
with phosphate in the human body, found in the bones and the DNA. The alpha
particle being emitted to the cells nearby “is doing the dirty work,” Fulk
Painful breathing and respiratory problems are the
first and most common symptoms of DU inhalation, Rokke said. Dr. Janette
Sherman told AFP she met a 31-year-old female former soldier at a Maryland
veteran’s hospital who had recently served in Kuwait. Sherman, a toxicologist,
was shocked when the young woman told her that she required a lung transplant.