12/28/2008 07:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Unspoken Casualties of the Iraq War


A collage hangs on the wall of the 6th floor Oncology Ward 65 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Proudly amongst the staff photo's is the former President Clinton beaming for the camera. When asked how often he'd visited the soldiers stricken with cancer, the amateur photographer and administrator replied, "Oh, he's been up here several times. That was taken in January 2006." I asked, "So then he knows soldiers are returning from Iraq with cancer?" She retorted, "Oh yes, he knows."

If the Clintons knew... then what other proclaimed leaders know and why do they sit idle on their white wash political ponies?

The U. S. intentional use of nuclear waste to create munitions when elsewhere in the world enriching Uranium is banned. And knowingly exposing soldiers, civilians and other countries to depleted Uranium would constitute as a crime against humanity. As a result we will have killed off our own military, as we come full circle in our own self-induced Hiroshima.

With each movement on the battlefields of Iraq, a soldier steps in a new direction, their lives
forever changed by wounds borne out of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. The military men and women may return as different creatures, although facing their lives in the very same way: as veterans. These new veterans are bringing with them a host of challenging physical and psychological wounds, the most apparent are missing limbs, but there are those with more severe casualties disfiguring the lives of these soldiers.

Army Transportation Battalion Staff Sergeant, Frank Valentin a 34 year-old Brooklyn native who was based for two years at the port of Kuwait City on the Iraq/Kuwait boarder in Camp Spearhead. The camp is situated in the middle of two oil refineries, a cement factory, a chlorine factory and a sulfuric acid factory. He and other soldiers who assisted in the movement control of equipment knew immediately when their eyes began to burn, the skin on their face felt hot and became red, and mucous dripped from their nose that they were in a cesspool of toxic chemicals and noxious fumes. The soldiers tried complaining Valentin said, "But nobody wanted to hear it -- we just stayed quiet. They just wanted us to do our job."

Within eight months Valentin knew something was wrong when he started to experience discomfort in his anal area and went to the Medics. Valentin stated, "They (the military) think soldiers are faking it because they don't want to work and want to get out of being in Iraq."

Without conducting proper testing he was diagnosed with hemorrhoids and sent back to work, but the pain and discomfort continued, as did his doctors visits. But Valentin instinctively knew something was wrong. Finally after seeing a dozen doctors, all diagnosing him with hemorrhoids, did the last doctor a Reservist Oncologist order an x-ray, only to find it was colon cancer. The reservist told Valentin their were six other soldiers that were diagnosed with cancer, Valentin himself knew of three others that had been diagnosed, one with leukemia, one with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and another with a non-malignant brain tumor.

"Between the chemicals in the air overseas, the shots they (the military) give you and not eating well or sleeping more than four hours a day... you're body just isn't strong enough to fight anything off. Right now it's cancer, cancer, cancer. A lot of these kids at 21 years-old are coming back with cancer. How did they get it? How did it happen to me when I was healthy," he questioned.

In 2005 Valentin was medEvac from Iraq to WRAMC where he underwent surgery. It was during that surgery that the doctors discovered the cancer had advanced. They cut his rectum, burnt the tumors off of his liver and found 17 nodules had spread to both lungs. He woke to find himself with a colostomy bag and prognosis of incurable colon/lung cancer.

Valentin exclaimed, "This war is cancer and the bad thing is people like us don't get benefits. The amputees qualify for the TSGLI Injury Benefits for up to $100,000 to start a new life. But because cancer is a disease and not a war wound, we don't qualify." Adding, "No one even knows we're on the oncology ward. The press, celebrities and politicians go to the 3rd floor when they want publicity shots with the amputee soldiers. But what about the 7th floor-ward 71, with soldiers that are coming back with cancer?" he asked.

After nine months of treatments and 16 rounds of chemo, it was deemed ineffective and Valentin was given 2 - 5 years life expectancy. The residual effects of the chemo canvassed his face with a spray of red bumps, and raised black ones tarred his back. A medal of honor lies under his shirt next to his colostomy bag, in the form of a 16-inch scar racing down the center rib cages to his pelvis. And yet, this young father of three's only concern is where his kids would start school in the fall. The happiness he finds when his little boy calls him on his cell phone is shown across his face. Somehow through the love and connection to his son, he's suspended in time, and if only for a few seconds, it seems everything else vanishes... and he's in a perfect world of a dad just talking to his son.

It's not the medical military staff that's responsible for this oversight with DU exposure. The Walter Reed Army Medical Center brigade of doctors, nurses, aids and staff are phenomenal and caring individuals at the crux of this conflict between soldiers and the DoD. Its carelessness and exploitation of the health of our military men and women rest on the shoulders of the war machine itself.

We will have learned nothing as a nation if the voices of these vets are silenced until they're old and grey or have simply faded away. Only to become more white markers in Arlington Cemetery, or another Wall of Names... their voices to be heard calling out from the grave. We'll erect another monument for them in lieu of exposing the truth amidst the war -- and more unspoken casualties will surface far too late.

[The Department of Veterans Affairs 2006 edition of Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents already lists DU in chapter 1 under VA Medical Programs in their Veterans Health Registry. Certain individuals can participate in a VA health registry and receive free medical examinations, including laboratory and other diagnostic tests deemed necessary by an examining clinician. In the depleted Uranium registry; the VA maintains two registries for veterans possibly exposed to DU. The first, for veterans who served in the Gulf War, including Operation Iraqi Freedom. The second is for veterans who served elsewhere, including Bosnia and Afghanistan. The statistics are there... just not available to the soldiers or the public.

Effective December 2005, the Traumatic Service Members Group Life Insurance program (TSGLI), began providing financial aid to OIF or OAF soldiers returning from the war with loss of limbs, sight, hearing, burns, brain injury etc. The soldier, or family must file a claim with TSGLI and depending on the severity of the wound an insurance settlement in the amount of $25,000 - $100,000 is awarded to assist the soldier and his family through difficult financial hardships while rehabilitating. Currently, $70,000 is the average pay out. The soldiers stricken with cancer do not qualify.]