Birth defects linked to Gulf War

BALTIMORE (AP) — The wives of three Gulf War veterans are suing the government for $60 million, claiming their children suffered birth defects because their husbands were exposed to dangerous chemicals during the war.
Their lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, claims the government was negligent in allowing their husbands to be exposed to pesticides and petrochemicals.
Exposure to “unreasonably dangerous” toxic chemicals during the war and immunizations the military gave the men caused their children to be born with Goldenhar’s Syndrome, which causes severe deformities often involving the respiratory and digestive systems and a distortion of facial features, the lawsuit said.
U.S. Attorney Lynne Battaglia refused to comment on the case while it is pending, a spokesman said. Telephone calls by The Associated Press to the women’s lawyer were not immediately returned.
The lawsuit was filed by Denise Blake, wife of Army Private Paul Blake; Marilyn Minns, wife of Army Military Police Sgt. Brad A. Minns; and Kimberly Walsh, who is married to Chief Petty Officer Brian Walsh, of the Navy.
Each couple has a child who suffers from eye, brain, lung, kidney and digestive defects.
Experts said Wednesday that winning the case would be highly unlikely, partly because federal law grants the government immunity from lawsuits by military personnel injured while on active duty.
“It’s very difficult to sue the government because first the government has to decide to let you sue them, and then they decide if they are liable,” said Jim Tuite, director of the Gulf War Research Foundation in Washington.
The Pentagon has said its researchers have found no evidence of a single, unique illness related to the war, reporting that clinical studies of veterans show a range of illnesses similar to the general population.
Dr. Stephen Joseph, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said in June that “an unknown illness or a syndrome that was mild or affected only a small proportion of veterans at risk might not be detectable in a case series, no matter how large.”
The Pentagon also disclosed in June that U.S. troops took part in destroying an Iraqi chemical weapons storage site in March 1991, shortly after the war ended. It is unclear whether the three men whose wives filed the lawsuit participated in destroying the storage site.
In April, Duke University researchers reported that doses of three chemicals used to immunize Gulf War soldiers from nerve gas and insects are harmless alone but can cause neurological problems in animals when administered together.