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Gulf War Vets and Brain Cancer

by Civilian Exposure

Recently, a news story about Gulf War Veterans popped up with a story that sounded eerily familiar to the Camp Lejeune saga of delay and denial.

Gulf War Vets have been fighting with the VA to get presumptive coverage for Brain Cancer from exposures during military activity there. Just like folks at Camp Lejeune, Ft. McClellan, and other bases, these vets have been struggling with the VA on having to prove nexus between their cancers and exposure.  Just like others, they have been fighting to get presumptive status for what science, research and experiences have already proven out.  Just like the previous White House administration turned its backs on people at Camp Lejeune by fighting to uphold the NC Statute of Repose and deny the ability to seek tort claims, they also turned their back on Gulf War vets, refusing to approve recommendations for VA presumptive status and benefits.

“The VA work group stated that soldiers who served near Khamisiyah were at a higher risk of dying from brain cancer. The group proposed a rule allowing VA employees to automatically presume a connection when faced with a claim for compensation. VA Secretary Bob McDonald backed the group’s recommendation. But when it was sent to the executive branch for final approval, the VA was told there wasn’t enough evidence.”

Sound familiar?

What is striking is that this is the same excuse for most bases and contamination issues across the country.  But let’s ask this simple question: Why is it that the burden of proof is on the veteran? The family member? The children? The civilian employee? The exposed citizen?

At this point, there’s enough information out there on the existence of chemicals and their potential for harm on a variety of fronts (from groundwater at Lejeune to burn pits in Iraq to Agent Orange at Chaffee). The burden of proof should fall on our military branches and our government to prove that contamination didn’t exist. They can’t…and they know it.

In addition, we need members of all branches of government – Legislative, Executive and Judicial – to work in favor of righting the wrongs and creating frameworks of equitable compensation and justice for all exposed to military contamination. Each branch needs to step up and play a helpful role in this effort. Stop with useless efforts to mitigate costs, evade accountability or play political games. Enough is enough.

Here’s a look at what is out there on Brain Cancer and Gulf War Vets, from the VA’s own 2008 guide entitled Gulf War Illness and the Health of Gulf War Veterans. The following are just a few excerpts (note: indicated page number references are the actual numbers from the PDF count, not the document footer):

Higher rates of ALS:

“Studies indicate that Gulf War veterans have significantly higher rates of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) than other veterans,and that Gulf War veterans potentially exposed to nerve agents have died from brain cancer at elevated rates. Although these conditions have affected relatively few veterans, they are cause for concern and require continued monitoring.” page 12

Twice the rate of death due to brain cancer:

“Gulf War veterans who were downwind from nerve agent releases resulting from weapons demolitions at Khamisiyah, Iraq, in March of 1991, have also been found to have twice the rate of death due to brain cancer as other veterans in theater.” page 16

Increased rates of brain cancer:

“Studies of Gulf War veterans have identified increased rates of brain cancer and measurable differences in brain structure and function that relate, in a dose-response manner, to modeled nerve agent exposure levels resulting from the Khamisiyah demolitions. Findings from Gulf War clinical studies, and from other human and animal research, suggest that an association between Gulf War illness and low-level nerve agent exposure cannot be ruled out, for whatever subgroups of veterans were exposed.” page 19


“Studies have also indicated that Gulf War veterans developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at twice the rate of nondeployed era veterans, and that veterans downwind from the Khamisiyah munitions demolitions have died from brain cancer at twice the rate of other Gulf War veterans.” page 21 | “Investigators continue to identify a significant excess of brain cancer deaths among Gulf War veterans potentially exposed to nerve agents related to the Khamisiyah demolitions.” page 55


Given all of the above, it’s time to move ahead and do the right thing. Our government (from the top down) needs to recognize the issues called by military contamination both at home and abroad. It’s time for victims to stop having to bear the heavy burden of proof, long wait times, lengthy or never-ending appeals processes, and more to simply get the justice they deserve for being wronged through no fault of their own.

Will our new 115th Congress and new White House Administration step up? We’ll see.


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