When a passing pedestrian wondered about the signs being handed out Wednesday to a group of protesters outside the Spokane Arena, Debra Smith was quick to tell him they were not against celebrating heroes.
“I think that the event itself is wonderful,” said Smith, of Lewiston. “I just don’t think that Norman Schwarzkopf is a hero.”
Smith and her husband Dave, a former Marine who served in the Persian Gulf, organized the protest to highlight the medical problems some veterans of that war now face.
“The leaders are lying, vets are dying!” a dozen protesters shouted to people arriving for the “Celebration of Heroes” show.
“No more chemicals!”
Protesters said they believe Schwarzkopf and other Pentagon officials have covered up evidence of the cause of a wide range of illnesses plaguing Gulf War veterans.
Dave Smith - who has internal damage, blood in his urine and tests positive for a number of viruses - recently was diagnosed with Gulf War syndrome. With it came a rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs that entitles him to compensation.
That came after five years of searching for lost records, appealing to the VA, and finally testifying before Congress.
“I already won my fight,” Smith said. The protest was a way to remind other veterans that they have to get into the system and fight, too.
Tony Willner of Spokane, a Navy veteran of the Gulf who now suffers from a series of debilitating medical problems, said Schwarzkopf should stand up for his former troops. If the government can’t talk about the causes of Gulf War syndrome, Willner said, at least it could treat the results when it shows up in veterans and their families.
“The American people understand national security,” said Willner, who leaned on a cane with one hand and held a sign in the other. “But you just don’t push people away and not take care of them.”
Veterans are most concerned that whatever is causing their medical problems will spread to their families. Debra Smith said she will be going to Seattle next month for a series of tests that the VA now provides for spouses and children.
Although many veterans have seen the VA as indifferent to their problems, or worse, she said the agency now seems to be reaching out.