Puzzling illness claims Gulf War veteran

'Failing grade' for military treatment

HALIFAX (5 January 1999) -- TERRY RIORDON doesn't appear to have suffered at the end.

But the 45-year-old Gulf War veteran's death Thursday was a far cry from the pain that had racked his body and mind for nearly a decade - suffering his wife, Susan, and others believe was part of a condition he developed while serving his country.

"He's been ill for 8 1/2 years and no one's taken care of him," Mrs. Riordon said Friday of the symptoms she believes were part of Gulf War syndrome.

Some believe the illness, not recognized by the military's medical establishment, was caused by vaccines administered to troops, chemical exposure - or some combination of both - during the 1991 war with Iraq.

But military doctors and officials have long put the symptoms down to the stresses of war.

Mr. Riordon's personal battle with the mysterious illness ended in his Yarmouth home. "The emergency medical team was called. They couldn't do anything," Mrs. Riordon said.

"He apparently died without any trauma."

An autopsy was being conducted Friday and Mrs. Riordon had already arranged to donate her husband's organs for research into what she believes is a real syndrome.

While her husband's life has ended, she hopes his suffering won't be forgotten.

"What the country should learn (from this is) to take care of those who care for them."

Mr. Riordon's death resonated with other veterans Friday.

"Terry's passing is another failing grade to a country (that) asks its service personnel to give all but gives little in return," Harold Leduc, president of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association, said on the group's Web site.

In a later telephone interview, Mr. Leduc said the Armed Forces' denial that the syndrome even exists has been "horrible" for afflicted veterans and is morally wrong.

Last June, a report on a major Canadian military survey - based on questionnaires mailed to Gulf War veterans - suggested there is no such thing as Gulf War syndrome.

The study found that the symptoms experienced by veterans were linked to psychological stress from the conflict, not chemical weapons, vaccines or drugs used to protect soldiers from nerve gas.

"I think it's an absolute coverup by the government," Mr. Leduc said of such conclusions, adding many Gulf War veterans have been denied the same access to disability pensions as other war veterans because, officially, the government still considers the incident a "conflict" rather than a war.

Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Janice Summerby said people who say they have Gulf War syndrome are "not being turned away."

She said the department studies doctors' reports or arranges for its own medical examinations to determine if veterans have recognized medical conditions that make them eligible for disability pensions.

As of April this year, 52 people claiming to suffer from the syndrome had been granted pensions, which vary in amount depending on the extent of their disability. Another 58 were denied disability benefits because their conditions couldn't be linked to service in the region, Ms. Summerby said.

"That can be very difficult (to determine). We're not talking . . . about cut-and-dried, or obvious, connections like a gunshot wound."

Last year, Terry Riordon dismissed conclusions his illness was related to the stresses of war, noting he and many others never even saw combat.

The former military police officer had served in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he helped plan escape routes and provided security for the Canadian Forces and allies.

In an interview with this newspaper last year, he said he believed his condition was caused by vaccines and chemical exposures.

At the time of the interview, the former marathon runner struggled to walk and the 45 different medications he took offered little relief.

As his wife fought Veterans Affairs for a better pension to cover his drug bills, Mr. Riordon suffered everything from night terrors to debilitating physical pain.

He would wake in the middle of the night screaming, imagining his face falling off or maggots filling his ears.

He had migraines, memory loss, severe joint and muscle pain, shortness of breath, blurred vision, mood swings, muscle spasms and chest pain.

Mrs. Riordon said Friday that his suffering only got worse.

"We had just bought a home the day before he died that was wheelchair accessible because he was falling so much he had to be in a wheelchair and he was . . . deteriorating greatly."

Because of his illness, the couple couldn't get mortgage insurance.

"Now we have two houses. . . . I don't know what I will be able to do."

But Mrs. Riordon plans to continue fighting for recognition of the illness and proper care for those who suffer from it.

"I have to," she said.

"This family's given enough to this country. It's time the country started helping those who served them."

*Staff Reporter, The Halifax Herald Limited (Copyright)

Comments to : shunpike@shunpiking.org
Copyright New Media Services Inc. 2004. The views expressed herein are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of shunpiking magazine or New Media Publications.