Veterans of a former metro-east Army Reserve unit either saw evidence of chemical weapons at a controversial Iraqi ammunition depot or saw them at a separate site the Pentagon hasn't acknowledged yet, a former congressional investigator said.
James Tuite III was the chief investigator into Gulf War illnesses for a Senate committee in 1994. Last week, he released a long-classified report that showed the Pentagon knew as early as November 1991 that chemical weapons were stored at the Kamisiyah ammunition depot when it was blown up by Army engineers in March 1991.
After hearing their story, Tuite said he wasn't sure whether the local veterans were at Kamisiyah or another ammunition complex in the same region.
"The issue here is, did the Pentagon have reason to know there were chemical weapons at Kamisiyah before it was destroyed or was there another site with chemical weapons that the Pentagon hasn't admitted to?" he said.
The Pentagon simply does not want to admit that American soldiers were exposed to chemical agents, Tuite said, adding that he was largely unsuccessful getting documents related to chemical weapons from the Pentagon.
"They withheld information from the committee," he said. "The position of the Pentagon - that there was no chemical exposure - is based on policy and with blatant disregard for the facts.''
Tuite, who now heads a foundation researching Gulf War illnesses, said two of the local veterans show typical symptoms of chemical exposure.
Jim Reichert, 33, of Columbia suffers from chronic rashes, diarrhea, joint pains and memory loss. Ernie Rangel, 31, who now lives near Naples, Fla., has nerve and memory problems and has developed a degenerative spinal condition similar to spinal bifida.
A former weight lifter, Rangel was unemployed for the past year because he was too weak to work.
Thousand of veterans are suffering from a complex disease that includes neurological impairment and the collapse of their immune systems related to their service in the Gulf, Tuite said.
"I think that what they are suffering from is triggered by their exposure to nerve agents," he said. Tuite backs a provision in the latest defense spending bill to put $10 million toward research on low-level chemical exposure.
"National security isn't about protecting bureaucracies. It's about protecting citizens," Tuite said.
Originally Published, September 3, 1996, Belleville News Democrat,
(c) 1996, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill.
GWI Anthrax Gen. Borisov Other Military Stories