OPENING STATEMENT OF SENATOR BARBARA BOXER
Senator BOXER. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
You really have been the voice for our Gulf War veterans, not only inside the U.S. Senate, but in the country.
I've been here a short time. And soon after I came, you began to talk about Persian Gulf War Syndrome. You never gave up pushing for the answers and you never let this become a matter of statistics. You've always put a human face on it. Some of those faces are out here today, thanks to you and your work.
I believe, whether from within or without the Senate, this is something you're not going to let die. When people say one person can't make a difference, they never met Don Riegle. I sincerely mean it, and I certainly want to be your partner in this endeavor.
The CHAIRMAN Thank you.
Senator BOXER. Mr. Chairman, hundreds, if not thousands, of California veterans are now suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. Many of them have come into my office. They've told me of lives disrupted and families destroyed. Every one of them has been a heartbreaking story.
The symptoms of this terrible disease are now well known: Headaches, muscle and joint pain, loss of memory, shortness of breath, skin rashes, diarrhea, and an inability to function.
Mr. Chairman, I had the honor of discussing the Gulf War Syndrome with a woman who has it. I'm not going to put her name out there because I feel that I need to protect her. She's a 26-year old active-duty Army mechanic. She worked out on the line repairing planes in the Gulf War. She was sent to Saudi Arabia in 1990 and returned in May 1991.
She started to experience terrible symptoms in late 1990. 1 have her medical report. You can tell from the symptoms, which go on and on, that she was completely debilitated. She experienced daily fevers of 102 degrees every afternoon, dry mouth, bilateral subcoastal stabbing pains of pressure which would last for hours, as long as 1 week, palpitations, chest pain, oral ulcerations, blisters on the lips, numbness in the hands, fatigue, severe headaches, and it goes on and on.
Prior to being shipped to the Persian Gulf, she was a 100-percent, all-American, healthy young woman, with no history of any problems at all.
She wrote to me:
On May 1, 1991, I returned from Desert Storm. I did not know that the war would start again 3 years later. This time it is not with a foreign nation, but with my own Government. I do not want compensation. I only want my health back. Please help the sick veterans of the Gulf War.
When we send people to face death, we owe them something when they come back. As a matter of fact, we owe them everything when they come back. And I believe that if there is in fact a cover up going on, whether it's meant to be something to help our country, not to get us down and depressed, for whatever reason, there is no excuse.
We need to get to the bottom of this and, Mr. Chairman, as you point out, we will. It took us a long time to find out about radiation exposure in the 1940's and the 1950's, but we found out about it, and the pain of learning about the cover-up only adds to the agony of the original sin.
We've also learned about the Agent Orange experience. I remember struggling in the House of Representatives for years to get recognition that Agent Orange exposure should have been an automatic disability. Don't you think it's time we made the same kind of conclusion here? We don't have one person or ten people. We have many, many thousands. They all have the same symptoms.
I have a statement submitted to us by Dean Ludholm, Jr., a Gulf War veteran, who joined the California national guard and very proudly volunteered for service in the Gulf War. I just want to close by reading his last paragraph:
Nine months after first accessing VA medical care, I'm still being told to be patient. This bothers me. But it doesn't compare to the anger I feel when other veterans and their families tell me their stories of dealing with the VA and the DoD. They tell me that these Governmental agencies just don't care, as long as they get their research funding. They tell me )f waiting many months for medical appointments. They tell me of quick medical screenings that do not look for evidence of illness. They tell me of the financial hardships this illness has caused their families. For the last 3 years, we've been more than patient with the powers that be. You have the ability to help us veterans and our families.
And then he closes and says:
These are tough times. We want nothing more than to be self-sufficient. You can't know the pain of asking for food stamps and handouts from the communities we live in, and then being told, we're looking to take advantage of the system. Let there be no peace until we have justice.
These are very strong, emotional, and important words. Mr. Chairman, the soldier to whom I referred earlier is now at a private clinic, courtesy of a very generous man. They're trying to get to the bottom of this.
I hope today we will have the wherewithal to get the truth out on the table because it is our responsibility, not some private clinic, to find out what this problem is.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you again for your leadership.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you very much, Senator Boxer. I appreciate what youve said and I appreciate your leadership on this and also citing those stories of those individuals from California.
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