By Marilyn McAllister
Lt. Colonel Marilyn McAllister (Ret.) is dying.
If you or one of your loved ones is serving our country in the military, ask yourself:
Would you be all right if this happened to your son, daughter or grandchild? Would it be okay if it happened to you?
In this blog, she shares her open letters to Americans, specifically our elected officials, regarding troop record destruction by the VA, on orders from the DOD.
“I will write till I die. Maybe someone will GET IT before it is too late,” she says.
Dear Congressman Brooks,
I am dying of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer that spread to my brain under supervision and treatment of the VA. Although I requested a body scan almost a year ago because I knew the cancer was not properly staged and likely to spread, Dr Diego at the BVAMC denied the scan stating that scans do not extend life. I had to leave the VA system to have the tumor identified and removed, and is the only reason I am still alive today. A scan by a civilian nurse practitioner did at least extend my life so I can still write you. I was writing a book on chemical warfare and exposures in the Gulf War and the lessons of the Gulf War on future conflicts that will likely involve chemical agents such as Russia Ukraine before I became too ill to finish the book. I am no longer able to see or write well and sent you a draft two days ago regarding recommendations to protect US troops in the Ukraine Russian conflict from chemical exposure. It was an early draft. Here is a more final one. I hope you pass it on to the US military for them to use in future planning.
Dear Senator Shelby and Congressman Brooks,
I would like to provide a historical background on the Gulf War chemical releases… I… include my… first had experience, because I was a U.S. Army Major, the senior school trained Nuclear, Biological and Chemical officer at Tamimi Compound the night of 20/21 January 1991 where I personally observed SCUD attacks and got positive chemical agent readings for nerve and mustard gas.
The historical facts prove that very large numbers of Gulf War troops were exposed to chemical agents. In the first week of the Air War alone starting January 18 1991, over 100,000 US automated chemical agent alarm that had been mostly quiet for months – except when the batteries were low as a safety feature – went off.
…over 230,000 troops were exposed to low levels of sarin, mustard and other agents before we even crossed the line of departure. (Studies) conclude that the alarms and exposures were a result of USAF deep strikes that wafted agents high into the atmosphere. These agents then drifted over 350 miles south on prevailing winds precipitating on US troops in northern Saudi Arabia.
General Schwarzkopf told Congress and the Press that he knew of no alarms that were not false alarms.
It is a physical impossibility that all these alarms were false.
I find it astounding that so many thousands of alarms in a short period were not reported to him.
There were political, military, strategic, medical, VA compensation, and global economic reasons to keep the truth from US troops, the American public, Congress making weapons systems decisions, and our enemy.
DoD did just that.
The reasons for secrecy no longer exist. The time has long past for the continued lies to end. The weapons systems are funded, the politicians are gone, the generals are dead their legacies secured, other military officers got their promotions, and Saddam is dead. Full and complete disclosure needs to be made now, not a hundred years from now.
DoD ordered the destruction of virtually all medical records and all records below brigade level in March 1991 at the end of the war.
I saw the original Pentagon message and witnessed the destruction of the records at Tamimi Compound.
This illegal ordered destruction was documented by DoD in a 2007 Army History section memorandum under a FOIA request.
The records destruction confounded Senator Shelby’s initial 1994 investigation because they were the key records containing unit chemical exposure data, positive chemical tests, sick call slips, medical doctor consults, guard logs and eyewitnesses accounts of SCUD, FROG and artillery attacks that possibly contained low grade chemical agents including sarin, mustard, tabun, yperite as detected by they Czech Chemical Detection Unit.
At the very least these weapons seen and located by our outside guards and documented in their logs certainly contained information on locations of dangerous rocket fuel chemicals like the highly caustic SCUD oxidizer Inhibited Red Fuming Nitric Acid (IRFNA) that US troops in Dhahran KKMC, Jubail and Rhyiad were exposed to by the tons. To date no account of where the SCUD clouds fell and which troop units were hit by the clouds has been provided. Nor has a good epidemiological study been performed on the effects of IRFNA on the human body. The Institute of Medicine did publish an IRFNA volume but it was poorly researched, ignored by the VA, and helped no veterans.
Each IRFNA trail, according to the CIA, who did not release IRFNA data until 6 years after the war was 2-3 km long and 300 meters wide. Approximately 23 SCUDs were fired at a close area around the Dhahran airbase and Khobar where hundreds of thousands of troops were preparing for offensive operations into Iraq.
In Dhahran, I personally observed IRFNA peel paint from vehicles, penetrated chemical suits, and damaged exposed human tissue. It destroyed my own chemical suit that I was unable to replace for days due to a serious shortage of suites.
Based on CIA data, over 7,600 pounds of IRFNA fell on Dhahran and Khobar troops in a closely confined area alone.
We had no IRFNA detection and warning equipment and unmasked before it had fully dissipated. It was at night and hard to see through foggy gas mask lenses. As the senior school trained NBC officer at Tamimi Compound the night of 20/21 January 1991, I was a key decision maker involved in the unmasking and monitoring procedure, recommending all clear following a very close SCUD attack that landed just outside the gate at Tamimi Compound. We could see the IRFNA clearly at first, as it fell through the atmosphere, emitting yellow, orange, red, green and brown colors. It was backlit by the city lights in the atmosphere. It became far less visible close to the ground where no street lights existed. Once we took our masks off we the NBC team located outside could better see that the IRFNA still engulfed Tamimi compound with a yellow haze against the quarters lights. We also noticed a strange smell that I could not identify. 1SG Coleman stated it smelled like almonds. It was highly persistent and lasted hours. It left an oily residue on vehicles and other surfaces when it finally dissipated. We were not trained at all on IRFNA but hypothesized it was SCUD rocket fuel. We were close.It was the oxidizer for the fuel.
During the same attack, our M256 and CAM detection equipment picked up positive readings for nerve and blister agent during the night of 20/21 January 91. These readings correlated with a UK unit located approximately a half mile down the road from our location. Because we had detection equipment for chemical agents, we did stay in MOPP 4 at that time until we got all clear with our instruments but because the equipment did not have capability to detect the IRFNA, we unmasked too soon. There were only a few M256 kits in the compound. DoD Gulflink web site documents all types of chemical equipment shortages. Individual troops did not have monitoring equipment. Monitoring was done at company level, for about 250 troops. We submitted an NBC 1 report of first chemical strike and an intel or special operations “spook” picked up our hard copy report and M256 samples the next day. I became sick and had to seek medical attention following this instance. I still have my sick cll slips and SF 600.
The CIA finally admitted in a declassified 2007 INTSUM release that Iraq’s nerve agent they called it “crude sarin” was only 20-50 percent pure. It was not strong enough to kill a generally healthy population but bad enough to cause permanent damage based on the 2008 RAC studies of rodents and primates and the study on humans in the Tokyo subway terrorist bombing.
This “crude” nerve agent along with mustard gas was also blown up at Khamisyiah on 10 March 1991. According to CIA estimates and DoD letters sent to individual soldiers the explosion exposed up to 100,000 troops, although the troop list and number changed over a four year period.
By the time of Khamisyiah incident,units had gone to NBC THREATCON GREEN as documented in official declassified logs.
Chemical alarms were turned off, many troops were unmasked and completely out of MOPP suits. Because the agents were weak, symptoms were also weak, often below the thresshold of what medical doctors would consider symptoms acute enough for exposure to nerve agent. A chemical agent exposure is just like a bullet. It has an individual soldier’s name on it, not the name of a whole platoon or company. Units come together, split up, reconsolidate, and data kept for centralized alarms, especially when they are turned off, do individual troops no good when applying for VA medical care and compensation.
Khamisyiah is the only exposure DoD had ever formally admitted to but the chemical alarms that sounded the first week of the Gulf Air War show it wasn’t the only exposure. Haley and Tuite in their groundbreaking 2013 meteorological and epidemiology study, show that the deep bombings during the air war were a far bigger troop exposure and caused more harm, likely injuring over 230,000 troops.
The US government still fails to acknowledge this exposure, although Haley and Tuite had access to classified alarm data and it was well know to US pilots who were involved in the deep chemical site bomb runs and to air crews who cleaned the aircraft on their return. Karger and Tuite had access to classified chemical alarm information that earlier studies did not but DoD fails to acknowledge that anything has changed from the 1997 and 2000 CIA/Army studies.
DoD began to deny the existence of “Gulf War Illness” as soon as troops returned from the war with medical complaints.
The denials went on for years.
Gulf War Illness denials occurred in sworn testimony to Congressional committees by very high ranking department officials who should have known better .
The chemical exposures were classified and many chemical records were destroyed all the way up to CENTCOM level but I suspect at least some very high ranking officials knew and cynically lied to Congress leaving huge numbers of troops with no medical care and no employment completely abandoned by the government they served so well. This is no precedent to allow to stand, even now 23 years after the war. Our troops deserve better. We were told we were faking it. We were then told we were mentally ill. Military doctors withheld treatment and even laughed at us. Many were sent home to die as fast as they could be processed out. The last words they heard from their government was they were fakes or mentally ill. Even now, Gulf War veterans still languish unable to work. They live with lifelong pain and misery, sill no medical treatment.
These Gulf War illnesses in fact weren’t disease-based illnesses as the poorly researched Defense Science Board study of 1993/94 implied but chemical combat WOUNDS…The DSB stated our positive chemical tests were false and that we obtained false tests “because we were nervous”. Automated alarms don’t go off because of they are nervous and the manual follow up confirmatory M256 kit and CAM testers had extensive training and years of experience. The DSB results could not have be farther from the truth or more damaging for combat chemically wounded Gulf War veterans.
We were hardened paratroopers who had been trained to face far more danger making night jumps out of airplanes, and invasions into Grenada and Panama. A large number were NBC school trained to use chemical detectors and were experienced for well over a decade. We knew what we were doing unlike the DSB.
The chemical agents…triggered long term systemic cellular level wounds that to date remains untreatable.
Unfortunately our injuries were defined based on common diseases identified by the VA such as fibromyalgia, ALS, and irritable bowel syndrome.
…we were defined as “environmentally exposed” and “ill”. Environmental exposures do not occur from blowback of chemical agents from our own bombs and detonations of enemy bunkers, a massive form of friendly fire, but from things like the Fukushima disaster and Tokyo bombings. This “environmental exposure” term used everywhere in VA Gulf War literature should be removed. It should not be associated with chemically wounded Gulf War veterans by the VA, like they are doing.
We were and are told our problems were and are mental, that we have PTSD.
The changes in our brain are not PTSD. They are organic. Because the battlefield was so fluid, many troops moved in and out of several contaminated zones. The levels and types of contamination differed all over the battlefield as is the nature of chemical agent dispersal. It is not uniform but clumpy. Chemical agent exposure, like nuclear exposure, is cumulative. So some troops got injured worse than others based on their individual missions, locations, and protective levels. Troops who never left their over-pressurized vehicles like the Foxes and some artillery and tanks were well protected unless they got out in a contaminated zone. NBC teams doing testing of SCUD and other attacks, Infantry troops, and site guards were very poorly protected. These troops could not remain in MOPP 4 indefinitely.
It was a physical impossibility and were exposed when they unmasked or unsuited. In fact, one CENtCOM chemical staff officer wrote in the CENTCOM chemical log that he was “concerned that units were being given the all clear before full and proper testing had been completed by all units. My own unit, the 35th Signal Brigade, was constantly pressured by staff callers from XVIII Airborne Corps to give quick all clears, even though our tests were not completed.
On 20/21 January 91 we were told we were the last to give the all clear because we were not all clear we were still getting positive M256 readings and our slowness in stating we were clear was a source of brigade and corps frustration.
General Shinseki the VA Chief stated in a 2010 press release that there are “over 200,000 seriously ill Gulf War veterans who are continuing to get worse”.
DoD admits that 98 percent of Gulf War information remains classified including 80,000 medical documents that could service connect thousands of troops. Medical treatment was withheld from the beginning, is still being withheld with only a small fragment of Gulf War veterans receiving adequate care or compensation for service connected fibromyalgia, ALS, and IBS. Additionally, according to the 2008 RAC study Gulf War veterans are dying at a significantly higher rate of brain cancer than the control population. The Army knew shortly after WWI that the doughboys exposed to the same chemicals would get cancer at higher levels than the general population. It is well documented in historical Chemical Corps literature. So it should not have been a surprise to anyone in the Chemical Corps or Medical Service Corps during or after the Gulf War.
I, in fact have stage 4 breast cancer metastasized to my brain and am dying.
…the VA did not do mammograms for two years. When I discovered the tumor myself, it took MONTHS and MONTHS for the VA to get around to treating me and they did that extremely poorly without a full diagnostic investigation. I asked for a full body scan becaue I knew the cancer had spread The scan was denied by Dr Diego at BVAMC oncology who stated, “scans do not extend life.” He did not think my symptoms were cancer related and sent me back to my primary care for pain control without any tests at all. THAT IS NOT STANDARD OF CARE for any organization other than the VA.
I had to leave the VA system…Leaving was the only way to try to stay alive and get adequate treatment. Nonetheless the delays and inept VA treatment has cost me my life. I am not the only one dying. Just read the papers… VA cancer patients are reportedly dying by the scores because of VA oncology negligence though the VA refuses to give official numbers. We are dying because of malpractice, failure to follow national standards of care, and just plain administrative bungling. There are also credible media reports of scheduling documents being faked to make the backlog of patients look smaller.
…The surgeon gave me a 1-800 number in Birmingham to call any time but the call center said the doctor was unavailable following numerous calls. I had to seek local ER treatment after much delay trying to get in touch with my VA surgeon… I have undergone a double mastectomy, post surgical staph infection, chemotherapy, a huge 4 cm metastisized brain tumor surgery and now brain radiation. It is no way to live but harder still was fighting the uncaring government VA system for earned medical care benefits. My own VA primary care doctor told me the VA is the Army medical system on steroids. You have to fight for your care. When you are as sick as I am how do you fight?
…The VA should fight for the veteran,not the other way around. I got to where I could not see to drive to Birmingham safely and requested to be referred to a local oncologist. That was denied…
I voluntarily walked into a SCUD IRFNA cloud to perform NBC monitoring, as was my duty.
My gas mask hood was penetrated, as a US chemical center study later indicated would likely occur, and my chemical suit impregnated charcoal liner destroyed by the IRFNA or dusty mustard. I developed serious symptoms including sores on my head where the mask hood was penetrated, sensitivity to light, dizziness,nausea, lack of muscle coordination, shortness of breath, inability to physically move out of bed for several hours.
I sought medical doctor attention and was given 48 hours quarters. I also have 3 sick call slips in addition to the SF 600 signed by Dr. Theodore Miller, LTC XVIII Airborne Corps. I still have the mask with the holes in it. When I lost my hair to chemotherapy last year, the chemical sores on my head documented in a 1991 medical followup are still there. I now have pictures of these sores.
…Stronger laws need to be put in place to prevent destruction of this kind of troop medical records and to keep them from being classified because of the life long effect it has on troops who serve our country and are entitled to adequate medical care for their wounds. Strong punishment should be included in legislation for anyone who destroys unit level records, the same way solder’s who mistreat POWs are punished. The least we owe our combat veterans is to make sure they are taken care of when they return home. This is just not happening in so many ways.
My life was ruined by the Gulf War.
I am losing my vision, ability to speak, to function to write to have quality of life because of the brain tumor. I can’t even get rides to the doctor because I am single and have no family. I have been thrown out to die by the country I served my whole life. The lives of future soldiers don’t need to end this way.
I ask you for Congressional action to implement my recommendations in the previous paragraph to protect our troops against future corrupt military and civilian administration officials more interested in their own careers than our troop welfare.
I will continue to write until I am no longer able or dead because our troops with chemical wounds deserve to be taken care of in the same way troops injured by bullets, fragmentation and IED wounds are cared for. You don’t just walk off the battlefield and leave a quarter of a million uncared for chemical casualties or casualties of any type and claim to have the moral high ground in war.
Lieutenant Colonel Marilyn McAllister
U.S. Army Retired