Gulf War Veterans Need Help

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by Denise Nichols, Staff Writer

Whichever exposure caused the problem it is important that these Veterans of Operation Desert Storm 1990-91 or Gulf War I as often referred to now since Operation Iraqi Freedom should not be forgotten.  These veterans have fallen into the long standing problem with Military Toxic Exposures ie Agnet Orange and Atomic Veterans and Project Shad.  DOD and VA do not want to acknowledge because of the long term costs.  But they were injuried just as those that sufferred direct trauma ie amputations, maybe even more devistating and long lasting.       We need to keep the veterans, family members, civilians, civilian supporters, news media, and the power and legislators in Washington DC fully informed and speak up for them.  Here is a recent news story of one veterans struggles.  http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/northwest/story/743925.html

Reminder Tuesday AM House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing focused on Gulf War Illness see our earlier story posted in Gulf War Section.


Tri-City Elks help veteran store items before VA hospital stay

Getting an 8 a.m. start for moving Thomas Race’s belongings into storage wasn’t a big deal for the seven Elks and military veterans who took on the task Friday morning.

But it was a big deal for Race, who spent the past four weeks packing up his and his wife’s possessions so he could check himself into the Veterans Administration hospital in Walla Walla next week.

Race has used a wheelchair since January, but he has battled depression and drug abuse for about eight years. Now he hopes to get an upper hand on his mental struggles by addressing his physical disability, which was brought on by an anthrax vaccination nearly 20 years ago.

The onset of his illnesses was gradual, as was his openness to asking for help.

"It was real tough because you’re supposed to be able to take care of yourself," Race said. "If there’s one thing that I learned in the Army: take care of myself and take care of my troops and make it happen."

He first started noticing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in 1992 — about a year after the vaccination — but he didn’t know the cause. Symptoms started in his knees and eventually spread to his shoulders, lower back, left elbow and left ankle.

It then derailed Race’s life in a broader sense. He had to leave the Army in 1995 because of the disease. In 2001, he wanted to re-enlist after the Sept. 11 attacks, but he was 50 percent disabled and the Army wouldn’t accept him.

He slid into depression and became addicted to the morphine he was prescribed for pain. He also abused alcohol and marijuana, and later lost his house and two vehicles.

Throughout his struggles, his wife Kerrie was by his side, helping him figure out what was wrong. But she’s also in the military, a specialist in the Washington Army National Guard, and last year she was deployed to Iraq with the 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

Race was proud of her service and never doubted her as a soldier, but her deployment contributed to his mental turmoil.

"I was always the one that was deployed. I was always the one that went overseas. I was the one not home all the time," he said.

This time, she was off serving the country and he was at home, powerless.

A few months ago, Race began to realize he needed to change his situation after he realized he couldn’t see through the fog anymore.

"I was talking to my dad, and he stopped me and said he couldn’t understand half of what I was saying," Race said. "I’d gotten to the point where I guess I felt like I was flipping out."

He finally pieced together the answer to his disease from a combination of sources. One was the insights of a civilian doctor who examined him. Another was the e-mails circulated by former members of his military unit, who also had received the anthrax vaccine and either also showed symptoms or had heard about problems with the doses.

His wife in Iraq received her own anthrax vaccination and was briefed on potential side effects — symptoms that sounded awfully familiar.

Armed with that information, Race has been motivated to turn things around, he hopes in time for his wife’s return in November. He filed a claim with the VA for his physical problems and plans to get treatment for the rheumatoid arthritis.

He also booked an appointment to be admitted to the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center’s substance abuse program.

The one thing he couldn’t do, however, was move out of his rental house. So he contacted the Columbia Basin Veterans Coalition, which told him the Elks have programs for assisting veterans.

Race said he wants other veterans to realize how many resources are out there to assist them — from groups such as the Elks, the veterans coalition and other service organizations.

Don Creighton, veterans service chairman for Tri-Cities Elks, said the club helped Race through the Army of Hope program, which provides assistance to families of reservists and National Guard members called to active duty.

Creighton, a retired Marine, also encouraged veterans with specific needs to let his club know. "It would be nice to be overwhelmed with those kinds of things," he said.

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