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2004-09-30

Daughter of Soldier Contaminated with Depleted Uranium in Iraq Born with Deformities

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In a major expose in the New York Daily News, Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez uncovered the story of how a new-born baby may have suffered deformities because her father was exposed to depleted uranium while deployed as a soldier in Iraq. We are joined in our studio by Guardsman Gerard Darren Matthew and Sgt. Ray Ramos, one of the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict. [includes rush transcript]

Welcome to Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Juan Gonzalez in New York. For the last five months Juan, you have chronicled the plight of soldiers who have returned from Iraq with mysterious illnesses. Your exclusive groundbreaking investigation in April found that depleted uranium contamination was far more widespread in the military than the Pentagon would admit.

Well in a * major expose* in yesterday’s Daily News, Juan you uncovered the story of how a new-born baby may have suffered deformities because her father was exposed to depleted uranium while deployed as a soldier in Iraq.

Army National Guard Specialist Gerard Darren Matthew tested positive for uranium contamination after he returned from Iraq. He suffered constant migraine headaches, blurred vision, blackouts and a burning sensation whenever he urinated. Shortly after he returned home, his wife became pregnant.

When his daughter, Victoria Claudette, was born on June 29 she was missing three fingers and most of her right hand. The family believes the deformities are a result of the depleted uranium contamination. The Daily News headlined the story "The War’s Littlest Victim." Today, Gerard Darren Matthew joins us in our studio in New York. Welcome to Democracy Now!

We are also joined by Staff Sgt. Ray Ramos who was deployed in Iraq with the 442nd Military Police. He is among the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict.

  • Gerard Darren Matthew, Guardsman sent home from Iraq with mysterious illnesses. He tested positive for uranium contamination. Shortly after his return, his wife, Janice, became pregnant. On June 29, she gave birth to a baby girl, Victoria Claudette. The baby was missing three fingers and most of her right hand.
  • Ray Ramos, deployed in Iraq with the 442nd Military Police. He is among the first confirmed cases of inhaled depleted uranium exposure from the current Iraq conflict.
  • Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! co-host and columnist with the New York Daily News. His front-page piece in yesterday’s paper is entitled * "The war’s littlest victim."*

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined today by Gerard Darren Matthew. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: Thank you, sir.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Gerard, can you tell me a little bit — tell us, the listeners and viewers, a little bit about your experiences. When did you get to Iraq, what did do you when you were there, and how did your illnesses develop?

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: Well, I was deployed January 15 of 2003, and I moved out, shipped out, from Fort Dix, April 10, arrived in country April 11. Stayed over there, came home on emergency leave in August, and that’s when I started receiving the problems. Initially, I was getting swelling and burning sensation, but I thought it was attributed to the heat, being in a high heat environment. As time went on, going back, I started getting worse. I started getting swelling in my face, blurred vision, because I’m a truck driver, and I felt like I saw my face two — two different faces. If you put a cross section down the middle of my face it’s like I’m seeing a right-side facial droop coupled with blurred vision. It was very traumatic because I’ve never had any problems before. I’m a very healthy person. I’m a runner, and to take this and now have a child with a problem, and getting a result, it’s really traumatic.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What did you do? You said you were a truck driver but where do you think the exposures might have come from?

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW:Well, in shipment of exploded material, where it be tank parts, Humvee parts, you name it, from Kuwait going north back and forth. That could be attributed to what I have. Plus, I believe it could be from things that happened from the prior war that’s been hidden, or mistargeted shrapnel that we inhaled. I mean I really and truly — I’m still trying to — I’m mind-boggled by the whole thing.

JUAN GONZALEZ:The military gave you in May a 40% disability pension. What did they diagnose as what your problems were?

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: They gave me 30% for the migraines. They call it a — and they gave me 10% for angioedema, which is the swelling on my face, which occurs off and on, and for the last — since I’ve gotten this, I think — I don’t know if it’s just my mind playing games, but it seems like every day under my eye it’s swollen for some odd reason.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And when did you learn that your baby was going to be born deformed?

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: March 12, at Lenox Hill Hospital, a doctor by the name of Michael Divon, is one of the best doctors rated in Newsweek. He found the anomaly and he told me about it, and they gave me options of having an abortion. And I figure with the child now being five months, it’s like killing someone. I been over there in Iraq, I didn’t kill anybody, and now I’m going to try to do something to my own daughter. Eventually, she conceived the baby, and it’s healthy, except for the hand. We don’t know if there’s going to be any cognitive issues in the long run, but I mean, you could — you should see the hand. It’s just — it’s unbelievable.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re also joined by Staff Sergeant Ray Ramos, who was part of the group of soldiers that we tested in the Daily News actually earlier this year. Out of nine soldiers who had returned sick from Iraq, and was stationed at Fort Dix and the army couldn’t tell him what was wrong with him. Ray was one them actually who was at Walter Reed medical center. Welcome to Democracy Now!.

RAY RAMOS: Thank you, Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You’ve just recently have gotten out of the army, finally, I think in July.

RAY RAMOS: Yes, July 31.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What did they finally figure out was wrong with you?

RAY RAMOS: They gave me a 30% disability, temporary disability, for my migraine headaches, and they linked it together with post traumatic stress disorder. The other illnesses they ruled out. They said they were medically acceptable, including the depleted uranium exposure.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Right, and the army conducted several tests after the Daily News in our testing did find D.U. in your — the army claims that their testing did not. In fact, I think they finally said that there were 77 soldiers that they tested as a result of the Daily News articles that came out, and requested testing, and they found no one positive, even though we found four out of nine that were positive for D.U.

RAY RAMOS: Yes, they told me my levels were low. They were too low to even test, pick up the uranium.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, let me ask you this: What was the reaction when you were still in the army at Walter Reed when they found out you had gone out for independent testing? Can you talk a little bit about that?

RAY RAMOS: Yes. I was actually grilled for about a couple of hours. I was asked by Colonel Hack, Lieutenant Colonel Mercer. I was questioned as to why I felt that I was exposed to depleted uranium. I was asked if I was in any burning vehicles or I was around any vehicles that had been struck by uranium rounds. My response to them was that I was not aware of any exploded ordinance around me, although we had patrols that had gone out and had expressed that, you know, they would see things. It wasn’t too receptive when they first started questioning me about it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And when they found out you’d gone to the Daily News?

RAY RAMOS: Yes. They were very curious. They were like, why did I go seek independent help? And my answer to them was, when I asked to — about the depleted uranium in Fort Dix, I was told that I didn’t have anything to worry about, and that there was no known testing for depleted uranium.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask Gerard also. You went to the army in April, and you did submit a urine sample and asked for it to be tested for D.U. What happened to the army’s test?

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: It’s so-called unfounded. They don’t know where the specimen is, and I’ve been contacted since the article by Walter Reed and they’re wanting to have me redo the test. They’ll send the bottles at home and for me to send it to West Point, but in lieu of the articles that what has stirred the pot a little bit.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In other words, they lost your sample, or they claim that they don’t have a record that you ever gave it back in April?

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: Yes, Mr. Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And now that the article came out, now they’re calling you and saying they want to test you now.

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: Yeah, and I think it’s kind of late. If one thing is already stating that I have it, what is the use of another test? It’s still going to state that I have it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the interesting things obviously is that there has been a lot of, in New York, quite a few of the political leaders, Congressman Eliot Engel, Senator Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer have gotten involved and actually Senator Clinton got a new bill passed just this summer requesting systematic testing of all soldiers when they return from Iraq as well as when they leave, and yet we have a situation with you where the army has lost a test that you gave them, a sample that you gave them five months ago. Senator Clinton issued a statement yesterday saying that she’s still troubled by the failure of the army to be able to adequately screen troops when they leave, and when they return from Iraq. So, we’ll be continuing to cover this issue of depleted uranium. The military continues to insist that no soldiers that they have tested who have returned from Iraq have tested positive, and yet in the Daily News now, we have out of 10 soldiers that we’ve tested — and I should add in your test, we actually sent three different samples to a lab in Germany, two of reporters and one of Gerard’s and we didn’t identify any of the three. The two reporters came back completely negative, only Gerard’s came back positive.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan, congratulations on once again stellar work in this investigation. Today — yesterday in the New York Daily News when you did this, they went through the effects of this report. At the request of the news, nine soldiers from the New York Army National Guard serving in Iraq tested for radiation from depleted uranium shells. Four of the ailing G.I.s tested positive. The day after your story appeared, army officials rushed to test all returning members of the company, the 442nd Military Police based in Rockland County. By week’s end, the scandal had reverberated all the way to Albany as Governor Pataki joined the list of politicians calling for the Pentagon to do a better job of testing and treating sick soldiers returning from the war. Your expose sparked a huge demand for testing. By mid-April, 800 G.I.’s had given the army the urine samples and hundreds more were waiting for appointments. Two weeks later, the Pentagon claimed that none of soldiers from the 442nd had tested positive for depleted uranium; but the news experts found significant problems with the testing methods. Finally, I wanted to just ask, Gerard Darren Matthew, what are you demanding now for your daughter?

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: Just take care of her.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll go to that af — Just to take care of her; and what has the army said about that?

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: The army is now willing to give her a test and my wife a test, all of a sudden, and my Tricare insurance runs out November 2nd, but they’re willing to do whatever it takes in order to help...all of a sudden.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for being there, Gerard Darren Matthew, guardsman sent home from Iraq, suffering from mysterious illness; now his daughter born is missing three fingers, most of her right hand. Ray Ramos, deployed in Iraq with the 442nd military police. Thank you very much for being with us. This is Democracy Now!. We’ll be back in a minute. [break]

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, broadcasting from Alburquerque, New Mexico. Juan Gonzalez is in New York as we talk about his most recent expose: depleted uranium exposure of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Juan, this is such an important report. Our guest, Gerard Darren Matthews, who returned from Iraq. His wife got pregnant and born was Victoria Claudette, June 28. The baby is missing three fingers, most of her right hand. Ray Ramos with us, deployed with the 442nd military police. What’s most stunning about the effect of the expose, Juan, is that in all of these cases, these men and their families have not been dealt with until you pushed. Ray Ramos, Juan was asking you this question before the break, but can you describe the scene when after the expose came out in the New York Daily News, you were brought into this room with — at Walter Reed where they grilled you. I mean, how many doctors, military people, were in the room, and were they accusing you of going outside the military to do these tests?

RAY RAMOS: Well, I was in a room with about three military personnel and a civilian. Basically, the questioning was to the effect of why I felt I was exposed. I didn’t have anything to worry about unless I was in a burning vehicle that had just been hit with a uranium round. Who was I, who did I get the testing from, and how much did it cost me to get the testing done? Things to that effect.

JUAN GONZALEZ: As I recall, there was one doctor in the room, one officer, who you had asked months before for testing and had turned you down, and you reminded them of that, that several months back, that was the very doctor that you had said, "Listen, I’d like to be tested," right?

RAY RAMOS: Yes. At that time I got the same answer, that I didn’t have anything to worry about, that unless I was, again, in direct contact with the uranium round, that I wouldn’t be exposed.

JUAN GONZALEZ: See, and I think this is important to understand, because the army in the spin that it is giving this story, Amy, continues to say, "Well, these soldiers were not in direct contact. They were national guardsmen who were doing basically support work for the combat troops." But it’s precisely the fact that they were not in combat and yet many of them are turning up positive that would suggest that there’s a much more widespread problem, especially among the combat troops who were directly involved. Many of these men were sleeping in their — next to burned-out tanks or, in Darren’s case, were transporting these burned-out tanks to bases in Kuwait. What about those soldiers who were even more closely involved in combat? The army’s testing, the problem with the testing, according to the experts that I’ve consulted in nuclear medicine and in radiation, is that the army is continually referring when they do testing of soldiers to the total uranium content that they find in urine, of natural uranium. If that’s not a high level, from their perspective, they don’t even bother to look for depleted uranium. The experts that I have talked to say that all of us ingest uranium to one level or another in the food that we eat or in the water that we drink, but that uranium gets excreted within 24 hours from the body. However, if you breathe in depleted uranium and it gets into your lungs, it does not get excreted as quickly. It can stay in your lungs for years and emit alpha particles, intense radiation, to a very, very localized spot within the lung. That can lead to problems, as well as the toxic effects. Because depleted uranium has not only radiological effects, it also has toxic effects as a heavy metal to the kidney and other organs. So that the military is using the testing procedure just for natural uranium and is not even using the most sensitive equipment that could detect smaller parts of depleted uranium that might be a reflection of — that the uranium has settled somewhere else in the body, especially the lungs.

AMY GOODMAN: Darren, have other people in your unit been tested? Has everyone so far been tested?

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: I know of only one soldier who has been tested, and to believe me, he was the one that turned in his urine sample just before mine. That’s why. And they have the results of him, but they don’t have the results of me, which I find very intriguing.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And your company was the 719th Transport Company?

GERARD DARREN MATTHEW: Yes, 719 Transport out of Harlem, New York.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you again very much for being with us. Gerard Darren Matthews, guardsman returned, his daughter born without most of her right hand. Ray Ramos, back from Iraq from the 442nd Military Police. And Juan, thanks for doing the report.

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