February 08, 2004 |
Denton: A veteran serving those afflicted in
By Tommy Denton
the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, former Army
mechanic Kirt Love observed the destruction of an Iraqi weapons
more than a decade, Love fought a battle of another sort to receive
medical attention for chronic migraines, abdominal pain and other
debilitating ailments that came to be identified as "Gulf War
Syndrome." After filing in 1993 for disability benefits, he finally
was able to convince Veterans Affairs last year that his ailments
As reported by Robert Tomsho last week in The
Wall Street Journal, Love's circumstances were complicated from the
outset for a variety of reasons. First, Love was not able to obtain
a detailed account of his unit's exact location where he was
believed to have been exposed to biological weapons during the
To exacerbate matters, his Army medical files
contained no record of the vaccines and antidotes given to him
before he went into the combat zone.
So for a decade, Love battled the bureaucracy
before he finally persuaded the VA of the connections between his
ailments and his wartime experiences. In response, he has founded
the advocacy group Desert Storm Battle Registry, which advises
veterans of current conflicts about what they may be up against with
"What I went through," Love told The Wall
Street Journal, "no one should go through. Unfortunately, it's going
to happen again."
That observation should concern the men and
women now serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, because even the Pentagon
acknowledges shortcomings in the records of the inoculations
administered to soldiers against a multitude of exotic diseases.
Such gaps prevent proper tracking of vaccines
and other preventive treatments or the times and locations of
possible exposure to chemical or biological agents.
Veterans like Love argue that such records are
critical not only to establish eligibility for veterans benefits but
also to assist physicians to diagnose and identify the causes of
delayed illnesses that may develop years later and to treat them.
Congress agreed, enacting a law in 1997
requiring the Pentagon to improve monitoring of wartime troops'
health. But according to U.S. Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., a Gulf War
veteran who helped draft the law, the Defense Department's progress
toward developing a comprehensive, continuously current database of
medical histories has been "disheartening."
A General Accounting Office audit concluded
that the tracking system would not be complete until 2007. That's
not good news for Love, who has labored long and hard to prevent his
successors from experiencing his plight, but it's worse news for his
successors now in uniform.
Love, as it turns out, lives in Mount Jackson,
about 135 miles north of Roanoke, just off Interstate 81. From Exit
269 to Virginia 730, go a half-mile and take the left turn for 2 1/2
miles on U.S. 11, also known as the Lee-Jackson Highway and the
116th Infantry Regiment Memorial Highway.
Maybe it's stretching mere coincidence, but
the juncture of Kirt Love, Mount Jackson and the 116th Infantry
Regiment Memorial Highway strikes me as worthy of reflection on
certain timeless seams of history - and devotion to certain ideals.
Organized Nov. 3, 1741, in Augusta County at
Beverley's Mill Place, later renamed Staunton, the 116th Infantry
Regiment possesses a long and distinguished pedigree. After service
in the French and Indian War, the regiment later saw extensive
action in several engagements during the Revolutionary War.
Among its several iterations, the "Stonewall
Brigade" also presented its colors in numerous battles during the
"Late Unpleasantness," as well as in World War I, World War II and
In other words, for more than 2 1/2 centuries,
the 116th Infantry Regiment answered the call to duty, as deemed at
various times to be right and proper. The current proximity of Kirt
Love, Mount Jackson and the memorial to the 116th should arouse
gratitude for one dedicated man, in one historical place, who
understands something of the legacy of service to those who serve.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's minions in
the Pentagon should emulate that same dedication.