Former Soldier Pascal Lacoste On Hunger Strike Offered Medical Aid By Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney
LEVIS, Que. - A military vet who began a hunger strike on Saturday still hasn't had any food after rejecting an offer for treatment from Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney.
Pascal Lacoste said Sunday he won't have another bite to eat until the federal government recognizes that he and countless other soldiers were poisoned while serving overseas.
And he says he is prepared to die if that's what it takes.
Lacoste blames his own declining health, which includes chronic pain and a degenerative neurological disorder, on depleted-uranium poisoning he believes he contracted in Bosnia in the 1990s.
He started his hunger strike on Saturday at noon at Blaney's riding office in this community across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City.
Blaney met with Lacoste early Sunday and promised that medical specialists would provide him with the treatment he requires.
"The specialists contacted the veteran, Mr. Lacoste, to offer treatment to help respond to his personal and immediate needs," Blaney's spokesman Jean-Christophe de le Rue said in a statement.
"The minister implores the veteran not to endanger his health and to accept the treatments which have been offered to respond to his short- and medium-term needs."
After meeting with the specialists, however, Lacoste said he had decided to continue the hunger strike because he didn't only want treatment for himself.
He wants recognition that other soldiers have been poisoned with depleted uranium _ some of whom he says don't even know it.
"We're doing this for all the Canadian veterans who suffer from this problem at home in silence," Lacoste, a 38-year-old Quebec City resident, said by phone Sunday evening.
Lacoste acknowledged that he was offered "tests in a reputable clinic and any treatment that would be required" but refused, saying "an offer just for me is unacceptable."
The Veterans Affairs department maintains it's unlikely any Canadian soldiers were contaminated with depleted uranium because few, if any, ever came into contact with it while in service.
Tests performed a decade ago on around 200 returning soldiers did not find any toxic levels, according to Veterans Affairs.
Lacoste's doctor said tests have shown he does have an unusually high level of uranium in his hair — but an independent radiation expert questions the reliability of the testing.
Lacoste has been chained to his SUV outside the minister's riding office since the hunger strike began, and he has been meeting with a steady stream of supporters and reporters.
The back of the vehicle has been turned into a makeshift bed lined with blankets and pillows.
A fellow soldier, Jean-Francois Bec, began the hunger strike in solidarity at the same time, he said.
Lacoste said he is beginning to feel the effects of going without food and is prepared to die if his demands aren't met.
Concern that soldiers may have been contaminated has been a controversial topic for years.
Major international bodies, like the United Nations and the World Health Organization, have published reports saying there is no scientific evidence to link depleted uranium to health problems.
Depleted uranium, a leftover of uranium processing, has been used to make some types of munitions and military armour.
The dense, low-cost metal was used in conflicts such as the Balkans and the first Gulf War, where Canadian troops were on the ground.
It is only believed to be harmful if dust from spent ammunition or damaged armour is ingested or inhaled.
- by Benjamin Shingler in Montreal