Former U.S. soldier Herbert Reed says he lives in a world of pain.
In one gloomy sigh he mutters all the drugs he takes, as if he were practicing for a chemistry test: methadone, morphine, muscle relaxers, anti-depressants, acid cream and bathing oils for the rashes, a respirator so he can breath at night…
“I’m a junkie,” said the towering, solid-framed Reed, slouched back in his chair at Casa Ridgeway hotel during his stay in San José this week.
He urinates and defecates blood, has diarrhea, and the light hurts his eyes. A tumor was removed from his thyroid. His assortment of ailments is nameless. But he believes he inadvertently inhaled radioactive particles of depleted uranium while stationed in Iraq in 2003 as a National Guardsman building a prison for war detainees. That exposure may be taking its toll on his health.
After being diagnosed with nerve damage, Reed was evacuated from the war zone. Before he left, Dutch soldiers found traces of depleted uranium in the area he had been working. After military bosses allegedly told him there was no test for depleted uranium, he turned to The New York Daily Post, in the United States, which paid for a German scientist to test him. Traces of depleted uranium were found in his urine.
Depleted uranium is a waste product from the nuclear industry and a cheap, effective weapon being used by the United States and other governments in warfare. Reed and others are lobbying for an international ban on its military use (see separate article).
Reed and eight other veterans who allege ill health because of depleted uranium exposure have sued the U.S. Army in a U.S. district court. The case awaits trial.
“The military never told us anything about depleted uranium, never advised us or gave us any protective equipment,” he told The Tico Times this week.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says on its Web site depleted uranium is “not very radioactive” and that “very few” soldiers are exposed to large enough amounts of depleted uranium to result in any adverse health effects.
Reed claims some of the urine samples that tested positive in the Germany lab were sent to Veterans Affairs, where they tested negative.
The U.S. government has done only one study on depleted uranium, according to an Associated Press report, and it was conducted 15 years after the substance was first used in battle. The survey included 32 veterans and found “no clinically significant” health effects from exposure in study subjects.
Nearly a third of the 750,000 U.S. troops deployed in the 1991 Gulf War, where depleted uranium was first used as a weapon, have applied for disability benefits, many for “Gulf War Syndrome.” The syndrome is the name given to an illness with a wide array of symptoms from immune system disorders to birth defects, migraines, and skin and respiratory problems such as Reed’s.
Similar symptoms have been reported by British and Italian troops from depleted uranium-contaminated areas in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo, according to the International Depleted Uranium Study Team (IDUST).
In 2005, the United Nations Environment Programme reported there are 311 sites in Iraq polluted with depleted uranium. Cleaning them would take an estimated $40 million and several years, though no work can be done as the war rages on.
Meanwhile, Reed continues his own battle for better health.
“I suffer every day, and I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” he said.