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How Depleted Uranium Kills U.S. Soldiers - The Tragedy of Dustin Brim

January 26, 2006

The widespread use of depleted uranium weapons in Iraq has led to a much higher death rate among U.S. military personnel than the Pentagon is willing to admit. The tragedy of Dustin Brim is the untold story of one such casualty.

ORMOND BEACH, Florida - An alarmingly high percentage of U.S. military personnel who have served in Iraq have been afflicted by a variety of health problems commonly known as Gulf War Syndrome. Exposure to uranium spread through the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons is thought to be the primary cause of the high rate of chronic ailments and mortality among Gulf War vets.

One of the first published researchers of Gulf War Syndrome, Dr. András Korényi-Both told me in 2004 that nearly 30 percent of Gulf War veterans from the first invasion of Iraq were afflicted with chronic health problems, a disability rate 5 times that of the Viet Nam War.

While initial casualties from the first U.S. invasion of Iraq were light, long-term casualties from the 1991 war ultimately exceeded 30 percent, according to Terrell E. Arnold, former Chairman of the Department of International Studies at the National War College. The long-term casualty rate from the current war in Iraq, Arnold says, is likely to be much higher.

"Gulf War II is and has been a far more hairy experience," Arnold wrote. "Fighting has been heavier and much more prolonged. Many tons more of depleted uranium weapons have been used, along with other toxic devices. Thus, a long term casualty rate for American forces of 40 to 50 percent appears realistic."

Indeed, as I discovered in 2004, 40 percent of the soldiers in one unit were found to have malignant cancerous growths when they returned from a tour of a year and a few months in Iraq.

András Korényi-Both said the unit, which his son belonged to, had recently returned from Iraq, where it had taken part in the initial assault on Baghdad. In the unit of 20 soldiers, 8 men were found to have "malignant growths" when they returned to the U.S., he said.

Official statistics of killed and wounded from the 15-year long war against Iraq do not reflect the veterans whose service related injuries only become apparent after they return from Iraq. The official death rate of those killed and wounded in Iraq does not include these vets, many of whom suffer slow and painful deaths as a direct result of their service. Dustin Brim was one of them.

"In the end, will we be able to say that the outcome was worth 60-70,000 damaged, distorted or destroyed American lives, to say nothing of the effects on their families and communities?" Arnold asks in his article "Seeing Our Way Out of Iraq."

As I listened to Lori Brim, a single mother who lost her 22-year-old son in the war in Iraq, where he served as an U.S. Army mechanic, to ask whether she thought the outcome was worth her sacrifice never even entered my mind. The depth of her tragedy made such a question seem cruel and absurd.

Lori lost Dustin, her only child, when he died at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. on September 24, 2004, after 6 months of fighting what was eventually diagnosed as Non-Hodgkins Diffuse Large Cell B Type Lymphoma. When Lori had asked the doctors how her young, healthy and strong son had contracted cancer all they would say was "bad luck."

Her case worker and nurses at the hospital were more forthcoming with information. At different times during the six months nurses would take Lori aside and urge her to do some research on DU. The nurses' comments were "off the record," Lori said.

Asked whose idea it was for Dustin, a 20-year old from Daytona Beach with a passion for cars, to join the army in the summer of 2002, Lori said, "It was mine." Dustin had not wanted to join the army, his mother said.

But Dustin was never meant to be in a war zone, she added. The U.S. Army recruiter had promised her, that as her only child, he would not be sent to war.

As a single mother, Lori had approached an army recruiter out of concern for the well-being of her son. Although neither she nor Dustin's father have military backgrounds, Lori thought the army would be good for her son by giving him some needed discipline and direction.

Mechanically inclined, Dustin became an army mechanic, an E-4 Specialist serving in the 1st Maintenance Company under the 541st Maintenance Battalion from Fort Riley, Kansas, and was deployed to Iraq in August 2003.

Dustin's work in Iraq involved working on disabled army vehicles, including tanks, which his unit repaired and retrieved, or if damaged beyond repair, destroyed with explosives on the spot. Most of these vehicles, having been in the battlefield, would have been heavily laden with DU and other toxins.

Dr. Doug Rokke, former director of the U.S. Army's Depleted Uranium Project, said that mechanics like Dustin are not properly prepared or protected to be working on DU contaminated vehicles. Lori said that her son had not even been equipped with a pair of gloves, not to speak of a mask or protective garb. The army's failure to inform and instruct its personnel about the dangers of DU exposure is one of Dr. Rokke's main concerns.

At Christmas 2003, Dustin surprised his parents with an unexpected visit after only 4 months in Iraq. It was last time Lori would see her son in a healthy condition. A photo of Dustin taken in Iraq in February 2004 shows him smiling and strong.

In early March, however, Dustin began to complain of abdominal pains. He went to the doctors on his base 11 times during the month complaining of severe pain and constipation that lasted for weeks. He was sent back to his job and told to "work it out."

During the last two weeks of March, he wrote to his mother telling her that he could not keep anything down and that his pain was so persistent and unbearable he was afraid he would lose focus and let his buddies down.

On March 31st he passed out from pain and breathlessness. His sergeant happened to be with him and took him to the doctors who thought he had gall bladder problems and sent him to the hospital in Baghdad.

The next day, April 1st, was Dustin's 22nd birthday. After being assessed and heavily drugged with morphine, the doctors allowed him to call home to tell his mother that was very ill with cancer.

In Baghdad, the doctors had discovered that Dustin had a huge cancerous tumor on his esophagus, which severely restricted his breathing, a collapsed lung, the loss of a kidney, numerous blood clots and a tumor progressing on his liver.

The doctors could not believe that Dustin had been turned away so many times for medical help and still manage to endure as long as he did in his magnitude of pain while carrying an 80-pound pack on his back, his mother said.

Dustin was flown to the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and then on to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

From April through September, Dustin underwent 6 different types of chemo-therapy. Each therapy seemed to work only for a few days after which the cancer returned with a vengeance. On September 24, 2004, Dustin succumbed to the cancer that had affected every organ in his body except for his heart and brain as the autopsy later revealed.

"I knew from the start that Dustin had been either exposed to something in Iraq or his immune system had been affected by the vaccines they had to take," Lori said. "The doctors would not comment on my thoughts but at the end they agreed they had never seen anything like it."

The nurses, however, told Lori to keep researching DU. "Dustin is not the first and he won't be the last," one nurse told her confidentially.

"The medical profession is the most controlled group in the U.S. in order to protect the nuclear weapons and nuclear power programs," Lauren Moret, a Berkeley-based radiation expert said about the silence of the doctors. The gagging of medical professionals has been achieved through a piece of legislation called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), under which a doctor or nurse can be fined and imprisoned for disclosing health information to another person, even a family member.

"The story of Dustin Brim is just one more avoidable tragedy of our insane use of uranium munitions," Rokke said.

"When I lost Dustin, I lost myself," Lori said. "This is something that should not have happened.

"There is something going on but no one wants to talk about it on the record. I am sharing my son's story with you in the hope that perhaps it will make a difference."


Dustin Brim, 21, of Daytona Beach, Florida, in Iraq in February 2004. Within two months of this photo, Dustin would be severely afflicted with massive cancerous tumors that would prevent him from breathing and eating normally.


Within seven months Dustin would succumb to lymphoma at Walter Reed Hospital, age 22, an unnecessary and tragic death from depleted uranium poisoning. 

Dr. Doug Rokke, former director of the U.S. Army's Depleted Uranium Project, is pushing for the Army to comply with its own regulations on DU. One of the key points he makes is that U.S. military personnel are not informed or protected from the dangers of DU exposure.

The photo below shows how Dustin Brim and his fellow soldiers worked with contaminated combat vehicles without a stitch of protection.  Working with DU-laden vehicles without having "moon-suit" protective garb is certain to cause delayed casualties and long-term health problems.

As Dustin lay in Walter Reed Hospital dying of cancer, a nurse told Mrs. Brim to research depleted uranium effects on human health.  "He isn't the first and he won't be the last," she told his mother.

 


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