FOR THE RECORD (August 12, 1997): No help: Family members of disabled veterans cannot receive medical assistance from Veteran’s Affairs Medical Centers. A Wednesday story said otherwise. But the VA will sponsor Gulf War syndrome exams for eligible spouses and children of Gulf vets.
Generals and top government officials have had their turn testifying before a U.S. Senate committee investigating Gulf War syndrome.
On Tuesday, a group of Washington state veterans had theirs.
Sitting in front of Sen. Patty Murray, they told of unexplainable rashes, of aches in the bones and body, of pain unceasing, of the terror at seeing the same symptoms appear in their wives and children.
They cried. They shook. Their voices failed them. Their emotions did not.
It was exactly what Murray wanted to hear.
“Be as honest and free with your emotions as possible,” Murray said before the hearing started in Hughes Hall auditorium at Gonzaga University. About 50 people attended.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings on Gulf War syndrome “have sort of dragged on,” said Murray.
By collecting testimony from afflicted veterans, Murray hopes to spur the committee to press the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency about what chemicals soldiers might have been exposed to during the 1991 war.
A combined exposure to chemical or biological weapons, smoke from oil fires, insecticides and ammunition and armor made of depleted uranium is suspected of causing Gulf War syndrome.
Washington has 35,000 veterans from the war, including those who came from Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane and the local Air National Guard.
Though committee chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has made Gulf War syndrome a priority, others on the 12-member committee are less interested, Murray said.
“We need more members pushing for answers,” the Seattle Democrat said.
A select panel of five veterans gave Murray plenty to ask about.
Troy Corkins, of Spokane, told of camps fogged with insecticide to combat swarming desert flies; of not bathing for one or two months. He told of booby-trapped corpses and piles of dead animals.
“The things we were exposed to were horrendous,” he said.
He talked about the war with composure. He didn’t flinch recounting the symptoms he’s suffered since the war - 24-hour pain and short-term memory loss. But when he told of his wife having pain, he stopped and cried.
Some spouses and children of Gulf War vets are showing symptoms similar to those of the soldiers.
Navy veteran Joe Pacerelli’s wife and daughter both suffer from recurring, unexplained rashes. Adding to frustration is the financial burdens Gulf War syndrome has placed on his family.
In order for a veteran’s family to get medical care from a Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, the veteran must be declared 100 percent disabled, said Pacerelli, who is from Colville.
Since he is only 60 percent disabled, Pacerelli is paying for his family’s medical expenses - $10,000 to $20,000 annually from savings accumulated in the Navy, he said.
Getting private health insurance has been “nearly impossible,” with the lowest premium rates being $650 to $900 per month for his family, Pacerelli said.
“Take care of our families,” he implored Murray. “You’ve broke us, but take care of our families.”
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