On the 7th floor of the Walter Reed Hospital is Ward 71, the oncology unit. When politicians come to visit wounded Iraq soldiers, they go to the 3rd floor where they can get publicity shots with amputee soldiers. “No one even knows we’re on the oncology ward,” says Sergeant Valentin.
This past July, Iraq’s environment minister claimed that 140,000 new cancer cases are clustered in 350 known bombing locations, where depleted uranium (DU) weapons were used. Many Iraq veterans who have developed cancer suspect that the DU areas, the result of the “Shock and Awe” bombings, are directly related to their developing cancer. Others suggest that possibly Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons were more advanced than previously thought. Some wonder if the smoke from the burning oil wells may have contributed to their cancer. What they do know is that, in most cases, it is a rare form of cancer.
What is particularly troubling to veterans fighting cancer is that if they had lost a limb they would qualify for Traumatic Service-Members Group Life Insurance injury benefits. Unfortunately, cancer is considered a disease and not a war wound so they do not qualify for the disability benefits as if they had suffered a ‘traditional’ war wound.
Since the beginning of the era of the modern war veterans have developed non-traditional battle disabilities. Vietnam War veterans suffered long-term effects from a defoliant that is now referred to as the “Agent Orange Syndrome”. The Persian Gulf conflict caused a rise in immune disorders and cancers that have been given the broad label, “Gulf War Syndrome”. What these latest bouts of cancer, that returning Iraq soldiers suffer, will become known as is anyone’s guess.
The number of Iraq veterans that have developed cancer is publicly unknown. The Veterans Administration refuses to provide the number of Iraq soldiers who have developed cancer and what type of cancers are involved.