No matter how patriotically we adhere to the slogan “Support Our Troops,” it is to the US military that the slogan should apply the most.
But, in some cases, the military may be a soldier’s biggest worry, especially as far as health is concerned.
That worry, apparently, goes by the name Uranium-238, or Depleted Uranium (DU).
What exactly is DU?
The use of DU weapons began in the first Gulf War. A dense metal, DU is included in a myriad of weapons because it can burn through tank armor, pass through bullet proof vests, and the like. Although a success in the battlefield, DU is currently alleged to be a possible source of Gulf War Syndrome among veterans of the first Gulf War.
“Gulf War Syndrome” is the non-scientific name frequently used to describe veterans with unexplained illnesses that arose following that conflict. Research on the matter is sketchy and inconclusive. However, is it illogical to suggest that the appearance of a new armament may have something to do with this never-before-seen syndrome?
Dust in the desert
The more you learn about the military’s increasing use of DU, the more the Army’s slogan of “An Army of One” begins to sound like a catchphrase for a soldier with no one but himself to watch out for his well-being. Here’s why:
* DU is radioactive.
* It does not discriminate between friend and foe.
After a DU tipped shell breaches its target, a fine ceramic uranium dust is spread and left behind. The DU particles are so fine?as small as one micron?that they’re easily whipped about during sandstorms and by passing vehicles and readily absorbed into human lung tissue. The dust is also easily absorbed by animals and thus spread into the food chain.
The military’s use of DU during the first Gulf War in Iraq has left many areas in that country contaminated with radioactive residue. Allegedly as a result, incidences of grotesque birth deformities have been cropping up among Iraqis since the last Gulf War.
A new favorite
To be fair to the US military, DU is also used by 12 countries. So don’t expect to see the armament banned anytime soon. It’s just too effective, and more importantly, its cheap?since DU is a leftover product from the production of nuclear reactor fuel.
However, because the US military is the unqualified leader in recent bombing campaigns, it is to them that the onus must fall in the assessment of the effects of DU. And it is to its soldiers that the greatest health dangers lay. Although a link between DU and Gulf War Syndrome is unclear, what is clear is the veterans of the first Gulf War are suffering.
The U.S. Department of Defense currently treats Gulf War Syndrome as a “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD). It is often treated with muscle relaxants in combination with mental illness assessments. Of the 697,000 that participated in the first Gulf War nearly 100,000 have registered with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs saying they have health concerns. Of those more than 15,000 have undiagnosed symptoms (which include fatigue, muscle and joint pains, headaches, memory loss, and other health disorders).
At best there has only been passing mention of DU in the media and the military denies any connection between the syndrome and the use if DU. However, the increased use of DU in Desert Storm may translate into a large caseload of veterans with Gulf War Syndrome soon. Ultimately, this increase would create a flood tide of controversy. Will the military take measures to properly inform soldiers of the health risks they’ve incurred? Past controversies?like the Agent Orange controversy after the Vietnam War?suggests that the answer will be “no”.
What you get for serving your country?
To add insult to injury, recent changes in the VA’s enrollment criteria in granting health care to veterans is leaving some out in the cold. New VA health care enrollment regulations now bar health care to single veterans whose income is greater than $24,000.
And to think that a Private with less than two years of experience earns roughly $12,060 while in the military. That’s risking your life for less than a dollar more than someone working the fryer at Burger King.
How’s that for supporting our troops?