Gulf War Syndrome, The VA and our forgotten veterans

gulf war illness

Michael Graddy joined the Air Force in 1986 at age 18. He liked the structure and discipline of the armed services and he wanted to see the world and serve his country. In 1989 he was moved to a forward air base in Turkey as part of the initial preparations for the gulf war. In the run-up to the war, he was required to take an experimental anthrax vaccine containing squalene. Little did he know that his life had just changed forever.  He became sick immediately and was in surgery within a week. After surgery he continued to get more sick and have arthritis-like pains throughout his body that the doctors could find no clear cause for. Eventually he was forced out of the service. Michael was a big strong kid up to this point. At over 6’7″ he participated in track, basketball and boxed in the Lodi, CA, boxing club. As a kid, he was never sick. Over 250,000 veterans from the first gulf war now exhibit the life-crippling symptoms of gulf war syndrome. Many of them have had their immunization shot cards mysteriously “lost.” Only a small percentage have been given a diagnosis and received any benefits. Mostly they are told that their illness is all in their head….

There is a very good reason why you should care about this story. It could be you. It could be your son, or your best friend. You never know. I grew up with Michael and his identical twin brother Mark. They were fixtures in Lodi. They had paper routes, his mother was the editor of the Galt Herald. They were good people. Michael lost his identical twin brother Mark to a car accident about the time that his symptoms were kicking into overdrive. Loosing any sibling is bad, but an identical twin, that’s like loosing part of yourself. In that same period he lost his mother to Lymphoma, two of his closest cousins, and an aunt, basically everyone that cared about him. To be honest, going through all that loss while suffering the effects of a mysterious illness that everyone is trying to convince you is in your head, well, it’s no wonder so many veterans commit suicide.

gulf war illness

Michael Graddy and his girlfriend Kami with their dog Bandit in their one-room home.

gulf war illness

Michael and his girlfriend Kami go over the bills for this month. Between food and medicine, it is a challenge just to put gas in the car. But the nearest VA is a 2 hour, one-way drive to Bend and they have only the most basic services. For any real medical work, he must drive 5 hours, one-way to the Portland VA.

gulf war illness

Michael talks on the phone with one of his friends in his small one-room shack in Oregon.

gulf war illness

Michael has to take regular testosterone shots because the variety of medications he is on, combined with the effects of Gulf War Illness have caused him to loose most of his muscle mass.

gulf war illness

Some of the medications Graddy is on. He fights every new prescription they give him, with the exception of pain-killers. Many of these are natural supplements.

gulf war illness

One of Michael’s shelves with his enlistment photo, his flag, and the ashes of two local veterans that he cared for until their final days while he was still healthy enough to do so.

gulf war illness

Michael with the ashes of one of his veteran friends who died in 2005, just before Mike’s symptoms got to an incapacitating level. Graddy promised to care for him and allow him to die at home, and he kept his word.

gulf war illness

Michael had suffered silently for 20 years with the ever-increasing pain and disability that is Gulf War Syndrome without ever once taking welfare or any other public assistance until the last 5 years. When he could no longer function at his technology job in Florida, and when he found out his family had a small plot of land in Oregon he could live on, he says he basically came here to die. But in one of life’s mysterious twists of fate, it was here that he met his girlfriend Kami, who helped him research his illness and for the first time put a name to all that he was suffering, Gulf War Syndrome. Now he is focused on getting an official diagnosis, which would free up far more compensation than his current $255/month and expanded medical benefits.

After Michael was forced out of the Air Force, he worked in the private sector as an information technology technician for 20 years until his gradually failing health caught up to him. At this point Michael had all the classic signs of gulf war syndrome, arthritis pains, nerve pain, loss of memory and inability to focus, inability to sleep, loss of teeth and was beginning to show symptoms of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Finally after being unable to work, he moved in 2010 to a plot of land left to him by a family member in Christmas Valley, Oregon, where he lives in a small shack on a dirt road. Although this is nearly 20 years since he left the Air Force, and despite suffering through ever increasing symptoms, this was the first time he was reluctantly forced to accept any government aid. Christmas Valley in Lake County is one of the poorer areas of Oregon, with 19.4% of the population below the poverty line, a 10.8% unemployment rate and over 20% of its residents on food stamps. It is also 2 hours one-way from the nearest VA hospital in Bend, and the years-long nightmare that Michael has been fighting just to get treatment and eventually a diagnosis for Gulf War Syndrome.

 

Michael is still waiting for his fMRI appointment, which keeps getting pushed back. Several recent studies that were big in the news in 2013 have shown that the fMRI can detect a definitive and repeatable brain abnormality associated with the symptoms of Gulf War Illness. However VA doctors have been extremely reluctant in authorizing them. Michael claims in this video, filmed in December of 2013, that the VA is lying about its service numbers and wait times. Currently headlines prove that fact, with the resignation of Robert Petzel, the Undersecretary of Veteran’s Affairs in charge of Healthcare, and the ever expanding scandal.

It always makes me feel strange when I am walking near or with someone in uniform and a complete stranger runs up to them and thanks them for their service. It makes many of my veteran friends feel uncomfortable as well. If people are truly thankful, if they really care about these men and women and what they fight for, then we need to fight to make sure they are taken care of when they come home. Currently veteran’s of the first gulf war are our forgotten soldiers. They are not eligible for many of the more progressive veteran’s programs such as the Wounded Warrior project, because many of these programs only accept post 2001 veterans.

The only help they can hope to receive is that the VA is pressured into acting faster on their diagnosis and treatment, or that individuals decide to help on a one-on-one basis. If you are interested in helping Michael out, please visit his Go Fund Me page. It is currently about the only way he keeps gas in the car for the long trips to the Portland, OR, VA clinic.

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  • JeffMay 21, 2014 - 3:43 pm

    This is such a powerful and sad story. I cannot imagine going through all of this, but especially given the circumstances that brought this upon Michael. Thank you for sharing this important story. People have no idea.

  • Robert RuizMay 21, 2014 - 4:11 pm

    hi there Mike, I went to 7th/8th grade with you and your brother at Woodbridge, I’m so sorry to hear about Mark’s passing, Scott Sady’s posting is the first I heard of it. I read about your situation, my daughter is becoming a Staff sargeant in the Air Force, she is going to medical school, but it sounds like they got you into quite a mess. Well at this time I am not in the position to financially help you, but next month, I will be coming into alot of money, and I promise I will help you… I hope you feel better soon, stay strong my friend

  • Joe ODillMay 22, 2014 - 5:48 am

    I live this essentially everyday , I really struggle to get up and keep going . No one understands and I know no one gives a shit about us . I fucking hate what I have become because of my illness connected to desert storm and the military . My body is shit and my mind is weak .

  • TerryMay 22, 2014 - 5:59 am

    Have you ever been tested for DNA adducts? Please contact me Tonggie9@gmail.com

  • Richard SmithMay 22, 2014 - 4:19 pm

    Stand strong

  • Michael GraddyMay 24, 2014 - 2:19 pm

    Terry- I haven’t been tested for that, this is the first time hearing about it, I will look into it, Thanks!

    Joe- Sorry… Hang tough, I know its hard!!

    Robert- Long time!! Thanks for the good thoughts! Tell your daughter to keep copies of everything she can get!! Shot records, doctor’s visits, everything!!

    Jeff- Thank You!! I appreciate Scott Sady taking his time out to do it!!

  • Michael GraddyMay 26, 2014 - 12:26 pm

    This is so awesome! Thank You all so much!! Your donations have made me feel like I’m going to get the help I need so badly.. The VA will compensate me for gas, but they don’t chip in for car maintenance, for the wear and tear of the 570 miles to the hospital, or the babysitting, or dog sitting, meals and special needs of the 2 day trip…

  • lbJune 1, 2014 - 5:14 pm

    My dad was a veteran who was stationed on Johnston Island on a secret mission. He gave 20 years to the Air Force. I found out about 10 yrs. ago about the agent orange, plutonium, uranium, etc. stored on that island. Dad died with cancer at the age of 49. But of course, his cancer wasn’t service connected…

  • ClarkJune 2, 2014 - 8:53 am

    I have walked the same road you are on and there is no end. As you know you must cope. period. I walk along side of you brother I was with 24 Infantry Division US ARMY Desert Shield /Desert Storm I lived in a sandhole in the desert for 7 months .I visit doctors regularly ,I have been diagnosed chronic PTSD and live with the many symptoms .Have asked for FMRI over and over again and the VA representatives try to explain there is no justification for the procedure.So for me I know your illness well,I live with the ghost. You hang tough brother .

  • Michael GraddyJune 2, 2014 - 12:15 pm

    LB – Sorry about your Dad… It is sad when they don’t take care of all of us!

    Clark – I can’t thank you enough!!! Hang tough, maybe there will be hope for all of us soon!

  • Karen WJune 2, 2014 - 2:44 pm

    Time for our American Citizens to SPEAK UP! Our Veterans deserve so much More than those in office! God Bless Our Veterans & Military & Thank You All!

  • Cheryl DixonJune 3, 2014 - 10:15 pm

    Michael, my husband and I are both vets living in Christmas Valley. He is also Gulf Storm, I served during Vietnam. I’m 100% service connected, he’s 50% at the moment. If we can help with babysitting, caring for the dog or sharing rides to Bend (We go every week) let us know, and we seriously mean this. My email is dixonpro@ymail.com send a note and I’ll send you my husband’s #. We would love to take you and family to lunch and share stories and advice. Hope your working with John Effingham/VA out here. He’s a real bull dog and will get things done for you! Best wishes, Cheryl and Paul

  • Helen PrinceJune 5, 2014 - 10:18 am

    This is a real syndrome and why the Government and VA will not recognize and allow the treatment of it is beyond me. The troops that fought in that war have and are suffering and should be treated for a valid medical condition instead of being denied treatment.

  • Sherman nealJune 5, 2014 - 7:07 pm

    I am a gulf war vet and also have gulf war illness.the value does nothing for us.yet I still love America. Dispute what we have become.my girlfriend and daughter have a really hard time dealing with this.sometimes i wonder what is happening inside my body? I know I’m sick. But the value says no you smoke too much. Its a stress thing.been in combat mode for twenty years now its saved my life more than once. But now I’m fading out.

  • Kathryn A IrwinJune 15, 2014 - 7:33 am

    My father served in WWII over in the Philippines. This country has always been hot to send their boys to WAR. It is an economical boon to the country. Most rich invest in them. No one believes in abortion but no one wants to help raise these children. The sad thing about it is these kids go off to war with a pomp & circumstance idea but what it is is protecting the rich man’s bank, their investments of oil etc… & their families have the good life. You wrote on my blog that signatures don’t matter, but they do. For as far back as I can remember no one has seen to making sure that our Veterans’ have ever been taken care of. My insurance through Medicaid covers if you have a distance to travel to the source of care. Evidently not your! This is a very sad statement. My intentions since I too am below income now, is to see that this is changed by voting against anyone that is a stick in the mud relating to giving care to those that have spent their lives already to make sure this country is safe & secure along with those that paid into Social Security get what they invested in. This is our right not a gift from the government. All the tax cuts etc… is just bullshit. It tells me that those in the seats of government are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. I will vote against anyone that doesn’t support these goals. Utmost importance. I look for the petitions to sign. That is the beauty of Facebook. We are strong. Just set down and look to where you can sign on the dotted line and make sure you get out your vote as loudly as it needs to be done. This is the real war!
    May God bless you & yours.

  • Jeff burumJune 16, 2014 - 9:43 pm

    I have almost the exact same story with a twist. Went over from McCord AFB in 93-94 for Southern Watch as Chief of Budget USAF. Was fine until notice for us all to get “flu” shots and take pills Dec 93. Suddenly I started losing weight and became apathetic. Came back distant to wife…hallucinate at work. Wife had ovarian cancer one year later out of blue, changed her life and ours. Later, I could not sleep, or concentrate, trembles, cracked teeth, irritable, cracked teeth…decided to retire early. Took off a year. Started CPA practice slow, had bad neck pains, then arm, them almost heart attack feelings. Then later in 2008, gall bladder surgery. Then sick again in 2010, double neck fusion, 2010..still not solved. Finally diagnosed by WRIIC at Palo Alto with Gulf War Illness Sep 2013, 15 years after coming back and two careers lost. Finally had to get private immunologist to tart me Jan 2014 because LA system not no what Gulf War Illness is or wmds of sarin and biowarfare. On same therapy as described in article.

  • SuzieJune 17, 2014 - 10:25 pm

    Please contact the DAV, Disabled American Veterans. I had my claim in for 10yrs and I would keep it in appeals. I was a DAV supporter but never used their services until they came to my area in a traveling van.

    They looked over my paperwork and basically said I should be getting closure very soon for the positive because, he said, a certain term that was used to deny. He said all paperwork issued during this time period that used this term are being reviewed.

    Sure enough, within a month or so, I had heard my case was no longer denied.

    Although I never got a diagnosis for Gulf War Syndrome, I qualified for full disability just by the overload of dibilitating symptoms, nerve damage in both hands, copd, major depression, fibromyalgia-the symptoms of… like chronic pain, brain fog, no energy. A sleep study showed I was awakened multiple times every minute. So though I slept like a rock, I never reached REM sleep, so no nightly recuperation.

    I got out of the service because I couldn’t keep track of time and it was getting me into trouble. I couldn’t remember changes in schedules and such. I was down to doing E1 clerk work and failing at it. I worked with good people who would cover for me. I couldn’t handle the thought of one of them getting in trouble for me.

    God bless you and may you see relief soon,
    Suzie

  • Corey KruegerAugust 22, 2014 - 9:58 am

    Michael, you and I are currently working on this… Hang in there buddy… You have a lot of people who care about you.

  • micheleJanuary 3, 2015 - 6:28 pm

    I am also a disabled vet I’m 42 been disabled since I was 17

  • James johnstonFebruary 1, 2015 - 6:20 pm

    Hey. I’m also a desert storm vet. I’m amo disabled. I get 40 percent. 30 for my migraines and 10 for my foot. I was denied for my Castro pproblems,no energy, depression, anger problems, And a few other problems. Said wasn’t military related. I have had everything appealed for three years now. Found out that the review officer has had it sitting on his desk for more than 4 months now. IIm hoping I will get a good answer soon. I haven’t been able to work for 5 years now. So many times I’ve wanted to give up but my wonderful wife keeps me going. I really do wish the va gets their act together soon and takes care of all the veterans. We deserve to be treated way better than we are. Thanks for letting me vent.

  • Tom TreftsFebruary 1, 2015 - 6:36 pm

    Who came up with the magical circle in the Gulf?

    A circle that somehow reaches far out to sea, but ignores anyone TDY in Air Bases just outside of the arbitrary area of possible disability.

    This creates an inherently flawed model of modern mediaeval medical mischief . An inbuilt exclusion area of plausable deniability.

    I was stationed in England at RAF Alconbury with the 10Th Component Squadron as a Jet Engine Mechanic and Hot Pit Refueling Specialist. The Gulf came to me. I was on many work details washing A-10 “Warthogs” without gloves, just soap and water and rags. We were specifically ordered to wash every square inch of surface.
    Funny thing….A plane that flies thru it’s own molten uranium round smoke should eventually be recognised as the big elephant in the room. What about Dr. Pamela Asa and her Squalene Antibody Assay? That the U.S. Army bought the rights to the last time I checked. I had my overseas shots. I helped launch fighter jets from England that flew straight off to war. My pilots fired an ungodly amount of ammunition that melts thru Russian Tanks like butter. I and thousands of other airmen, soldiers and sailors washed this uranium dust off of planes, tanks, trucks…..you name it. It’s obvious. We’re all sick on either side of the circle. Neurotoxins/ Squalene / Solvents / Depleted Uranium / etc. What this boils down to is a hazardous work environment…..duh.

    History will see Gulf War Illness in the same way that we have come to see Dow Chemical Dioxin laden Agent Orange as the monumental clusterfuck FUBAR situations of all time.
    And I mean that in a nice way. Still, if given the opportunity, I would like to strangle whoever came up with the big red circle. That woyld be nice.

  • RAYMONDAugust 11, 2015 - 11:22 am

    hi Michael, I’M A PERSIAN GULF VETERAN,I THINK YOUR CONDITIONS IS CALL FIBROMYALGIA IS A MEDICAL CONDITION OF GULF WAR AND YOU HAVE ALL THE SYMPTOMS,LOOK IN THE WEB ABOUT THIS CONDITION. ASK YOUR PRIMARY DOCTOR TO PERFORM THIS BLOOD TEST,1. EPSTEIN BARR VIRUS CAPSID AB IGG ., 2.CA PSID AB. IGM. 3.EARLY AB.IGG, 4.NUCLEAR AB IGG. THIS IS THE TRIGGLE FOR THE FIBROMYALGIA SYMPTOMS. I HOPE IN GOD THAT YOU GET WELL SOON.

    LOOK FOR THIS LAWYERS, B&M BERGMANN &MOORE PHONE 877, 838-2889

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    CoQ10 Found to Provide Health Benefits to Gulf War Veterans

    A recent study published in the Neural Computation medical journal revealed that a 100mg dose of high quality CoQ10 provided significant health benefits to veterans who were diagnosed with Gulf War illness. The research was conducted by a team at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine involving a group of 46 U.S. Gulf War veterans who had been previously diagnosed with Gulf War illness.

    The various conditions associated with Gulf War illness are connected to environmental exposures such as pesticides, or medications given to servicemembers to protect them from nerve agents used during the war. These exposures may damage the mitochondria, which protect our cells and generate energy for cellular activity. CoQ10 exists naturally within the body and directly assists in the production of mitochondrial energy production.

    By supplementing the veterans’ own CoQ10 production with a 100mg external dose, researchers found that 80 percent of the veterans had improvement in physical function. Degree of improvement was in direct correlation with the level of CoQ10 found in the veteran’s bloodstream. The research team is taking its study to the next level and is actively seeking funding to test CoQ10 in conjunction with several other nutrients that support mitochondrial function and health.

    VA Disability for Gulf War Illness

    Gulf War illness is a disabling condition that is still under research by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans of the Gulf War who experience undue fatigue, cognitive issues, mood swings, and other symptoms are said to suffer from “medically unexplained illnesses,” or in popular language, “Gulf War Syndrome,” for which there is no known cure or standard of treatment.

    If you are a veteran of the Gulf War and experience multiple unexplained and unrelated illnesses, the VA offers a free Gulf War Registry health exam to identify treatment options and to track long-term health problems associated with Gulf War exposures.

    If diagnosed with any illnesses related to your service during the Gulf War, you may be entitled to disability benefits from the VA. Contact The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. today for a free consultation regarding your options for disability compensation or right to appeal a prior decision: 888-234-5758.

    Tags: CoQ10, experimental treatment, Gulf War, gulf war illness, Gulf War Syndrome, natural remedies, Veterans Health

    This entry was posted on Thursday, November 6th, 2014 at 5:34 pm and is filed under Disabled Veterans. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  • Jerry McEntireApril 19, 2016 - 9:49 am

    Thanks for the post and sorry to hear another Vet struggling. I to have been dealing with the same stuff. I started having problems in 2008 and never once thought about a military connection since I wasn’t deployed, but in 2015 I was researching my symptoms and realized it was the same as a lot of gulf war vets. do remember getting the shots because as we were standing in line I remember hearing if we did not take them it was a article 15 offense and I joked with my team o well if something happens to us with the experimental drug the army will take care of us! There are days I wander if any of my team are dealing with the same problems and cussing me for encouraging them to get it done! The Army has not stepped up and taken care of us like I thought in fact the only real care has been threw local doctors. I look at the VA gulf war information and if I had been deployed I would automatically be excepted as military connected with all the problems I have!

  • Michael GraddySeptember 7, 2016 - 7:37 am

    I wanted to let you all know!!

    I FINALLY GOT MY DISABILITY FROM THE VA!!!

    Thank You Scott!!

    And all that had a kind word of support!!

    Michael Graddy, USAF vet

Fine Art Landscape Photography

Lake Tahoe Landscape Photographer

Scott Sady is a freelance and fine art landscape photographer based in Lake Tahoe and Reno. Scott specializes in Lake Tahoe landscape photography, Sierra landscape photography, Reno and Lake Tahoe stock images and freelance and photojournalism. Scott is available for freelance photography assignments in the Reno and Lake Tahoe area.