Gulf War veteran tells local audiences that depleted uranium is causing countless ailments
John Larson, Mountain Mail, October 19, 2006
Demacio Lopez measures the radiation level in small fragments of shrapnel that came from wounds received by Jerry Wheat during the Gulf War. According to the readings, the radiation level measured 12 times higher than normal. John Larson photo
SOCORRO, New Mexico (STPNS) —
Gulf War veteran Jerry Wheat of Los Lunas spoke about his experiences with depleted uranium munitions Friday, Sept. 29, at the Disabled American Veterans Hall and at the Socorro Public Library.
Wheat said he was wounded by friendly fire on Feb. 27, 1990, as he was driving a Bradley armored personnel in Iraq, and that he did not know at the time that the U.S. shells that hit him were made from depleted uranium.
He said he was knocked unconscious by the first of two shells, and when he came to his clothing was on fire. He said the skin on his neck, upper back, and lower back was burning from depleted uranium shrapnel.
Awarded a Purple Heart, Wheat returned home to Los Lunas with pieces of shrapnel embedded in his body and mysterious body pains.
“I have had real bad joint pain, and abdominal problems,” Wheat said. “I get real bad headaches. I went from 220 pounds down to 160 pounds for no reason, and that’s when I started suspecting that it was something related to the Gulf.”
Wheat said the American military has been testing depleted uranium for over 40 years without ensuring that American soldiers know how to handle this new weapons system. Wheat claims the military has never shown any interest in his shrapnel and tells him his health problems are due to post-traumatic stress disorder.
“They’re not denying that I was hit by friendly fire, but they are denying I was hit by depleted uranium,” Wheat said.
Tom Delahanty, DAV Chapter 24 Commander in Socorro, said Wheat’s situation is similar to his own experience with the government recognizing the health consequences of his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
“From the Gulf War to the Iraqi War, soldiers have been exposed to different things, different weapons, than the World War II and Vietnam vets were,” Delahanty said.
Delahanty related Wheat’s condition to depleted uranium testing at EMRTC.
“They’ve just discovered that the levels of uranium from our wells are above drinking water standards for Socorro,” he said. “If there’s uranium in our water, where else could it be coming from, but from New Mexico Tech?”
Following Wheat’s talk, Army veteran, Socorro native Demacio Lopez measured the levels of radiation in the shrapnel Wheat said came from his shoulder wound months after he returned from Iraq. He keeps the shrapnel in a plastic film canister. Lopez is an activist who focuses his efforts on exposing the dangers of depleted uranium.
“When they took the shrapnel out of me, I asked if I could have it as a souvenir,” Wheat said. “They told me they lost them. This shrapnel was still embedded in my shoulder, and was expelled naturally.”
According to the readings conducted by Lopez, the level of radioactivity in the small bits of metal was 12 times higher than normal.
Delahanty said one of the DAV’s main purposes was to inform vets and their families on what affects them.
“We try to be a spokesman for veterans. Support their rights and educate them on whatever benefits are available to them,” Delahanty said.
Jay Santillanes, Utilities Director for the city of Socorro, said the uranium in one of the city’s wells is naturally occurring and is not depleted uranium.
“The Olsen well is the one with the higher levels, and that one will go off line permanently when the new well goes on line,” Santillanes said. “It was pretty close to the new EPA upper limit of safe drinking water. Like the arsenic content, the uranium levels in the Olsen well have always been about the same. It’s just that the EPA changed the limits.”
© 2006 Mountain Mail Socorro, New Mexico.