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Ailing Gulf War vets tell Congress they were exposed to chemicals


WASHINGTON -- Dozens of Persian Gulf War veterans, complaining of bouts with cancer, dizziness, soreness, swelling and other unexplainable ailments, urged Congress to push the Pentagon to acknowledge that U.S. troops were exposed to chemical agents during Operation Desert Storm.

About 50 ailing veterans -- one in a wheelchair, several with canes -- appeared yesterday at a special session of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee to discuss their medical problems. Overflowing the small hearing room, they embraced one another and sometimes cried, overcome with anger and pain and feelings that the government they fought for has forgotten them.

* Army Col. Herb Smith of Frederick, Md., barely able to walk to and from his seat at the witness table, was on a short leave from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, his hospital band still wrapped around his right wrist.

* Mike Land, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot from Huntington Beach, Calif., described how doctors discovered a golf ball-sized tumor in his lymph node, and how his wife is beginning to suffer pains in her joints and their 3-month-old daughter was born with deformed feet.

* Hester Adcock of Ocala, Fla., told the story of her son, Michael -- once a championship weight lifter and boxer -- who developed cancer of the heart, lungs, spleen, kidney and brain and died 11 months after he came home from Saudi Arabia.

"The Department of Defense needs to come clean with all of us and tell us the truth," she said, trying to speak over her tears. "There is no doubt in my mind that my son died as a result of chemical and biological warfare while serving in the gulf. We deserve to know the truth."

The Pentagon has officially denied that any U.S. troops were exposed to chemical or biological agents. But Defense Department officials have scheduled two briefings today to clarify their position and explain what is being done to help sick veterans.

Veterans support groups and several sympathetic House members contend the Pentagon has been less than forthcoming in detailing the possible health risks that U.S. troops confronted during the war. They cited as an example a report by a Czechoslovakian chemical agent detection team that found evidence of toxic contamination, but which the Pentagon has asserted did not affect U.S. troops.

Some of the most dramatic testimony came from Carol Picou, an Army nurse from San Antonio.

Ms. Picou described urinary and bowel incontinence, rashes, hair loss, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. She was medically discharged this summer, losing her vocation for the last 14 years. She recalled working around flaming oil wells and burning tanks, and incidents where "we had black particles on our skin that we had to wipe away."

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