VA’s Neglect Contributes to Desert Storm Veteran’s Death

Delaware Gazette Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Local family remembers Marine’s untimely death

By David Block

For the Gazette

 

Corporal Steven Campbell was a proud marine who volunteered to serve for six years. In 1991, Campbell fought in Desert Storm, in which he was in 1st Marine Division 1st Battalion; 12 Marine Regiment Artillery. He fought in the battle of Kafji, and he helped liberate Kuwait.

 

Campbell died, not at the hands of the Iraqis, or from Saddam Hussein, but from the cancer, Mucinous Adenocarcinoma, also named; Pseudomyxoma Peritoneal and nicknamed; “Jelly Belly.”

 

“That cancer squeezed the life out of Steven’s organs,” said his mother Alyce Hutchison-Doss, of Powell.

 

Although Campbell died 10 years ago, Feb. 12, 2000 — six days after his 32nd birthday-his family still remembers his ordeal as if it happened yesterday.

 

“In July 1998,” Steven’s buddy found him on his living floor in a fetal position,” Hutchison-Doss recalled. “He had severe stomach pain, so his friend took him to the Veteran’s Administration (VA) emergency room,”

According to Hutchison-Doss, the doctors kept him there a few days and then sent him home. “His pain got worse,” said his mother. “I knew something was seriously wrong because that month he dropped from 198 to 175 pounds. After that he was still losing weight and he couldn’t eat anything. So I kept saying, ‘Steven, I have a doctor friend who wants to examine you.’ But at first I couldn’t convince him to see her because he believed that the VA would take care of him. One time he told me that a VA doctor accused him of drinking too much when he was in the marines. He told Steven that he was probably an alcoholic and didn’t know it. His pain was all in his head and there was nothing wrong with him.”

Steven’s older brother Jim by 19 months also suspected that Steven’s sickness was not a passing phase.

“Steven no longer had energy,” said Jim Campbell, formerly of Columbus, who now lives in Illinois. “He wasn’t himself.” He was not the same Steven Campbell who one night outlasted Jim fishing. “One night when we were teenagers, we were fishing at the Chillicothe River, and I got so tired, I went to bed, but Steven stayed out there. Then at the crack of dawn, he woke me up by dangling a catfish over my head. He told me that I missed out on catching it because I turned in early.”

 

Steven’s stepfather Bill Doss remembered: “When Steven and I were playing basketball, he suddenly had to quit after three games. That wasn’t Steven because he could play forever. That broke my heart. As active as he was, then he couldn’t do the things that he loved to do. The old Steven Campbell was paralyzed inside a sick body. One time when I helped Steven remodel his house, he just had to sit down. After that, I knew that something was wrong.”

Steven’s mother finally convinced him to see her doctor friend, who discovered that he had “Jelly Belly.”

 

When asked if she thought that he contracted it as a result of serving in the Gulf, Hutchison-Doss said: “I’m pretty positive. The unit he was with was shooting live uranium shells. They were not given anything for protection.”

Former U.S. Navy Ensign Dan Fahey, who in the mid 1990s served on the Board of Directors of the National Gulf War Resource Center — an organization committed to helping sick Gulf War veterans — and who had researched the hazards of depleted uranium, described it: “Depleted uranium is a byproduct process to create highly radioactive enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons and in nuclear fuel. Uranium is mined. It’s taken out of the ground and then it’s processed and in that process some of the highly radioactive parts of it are removed. What’s left over is called depleted uranium. It’s very chemically toxic. As the United States produced more nuclear weapons and started to branch out into nuclear power production, large stock piles of depleted uranium were accumulating at sites throughout the United States. The Department of Defense got involved during the ’60s and ’70s in testing depleted uranium for use in armor piercing ammunition.

Depleted uranium is almost twice as dense as lead. By the time of the 1991 Gulf War, it was deployed for the first time to be used in combat. When depleted uranium is shot in combat, dense rods of metal are fired. There’s no coding. There’s no explosive charge. It’s just a really dense rod of metal shot at a very high velocity out of a gun. And at the other end of that if it hits tank armor, it’s able to punch its way through tank armor.

 

But as it’s doing so, a certain percentage of the round burns up. It’s one of the properties of depleted uranium is that it burns. So you have created at the site a very fine uranium dust that contaminates the site, mostly just within the immediate area of the tank that’s hit. But from the Department of Defense’s own reports before the Gulf War they said that at these local sites there’s a potential that soldiers can inhale the dust and then subsequently develop health problems, including cancer. So in their own guidance they had said if soldiers have potential exposures they should be tested and also if they’re working on contaminated equipment at a minimum they should wear respiratory protection and ideally they should wear full protective suits.”

Both Fahey and Hutchison-Doss said that soldiers were not given anything that would have protected them from depleted uranium. “Steven’s unit cleaned up the area where the uranium shells landed,” said his mother. “They were breathing it in.”

Another reason she believes that Steven developed the cancer in the Gulf was that no one in Steven’s family ever had cancer.

Prior to Steven’s death, his mother fulfilled his dying wish, which was to talk with General Colin Powell.

 

Her attorney knew the governor of Ohio, who knew people who knew Colin Powell.

She remembered: “I was with Steven in the hospital. The phone rang and this beautiful voice answered, ‘Is Steven Campbell there?’

 

‘Yes, who’s calling?’

 

“General Colin Powell.”

 

Steven was sitting in a chair, his head was down. He was so thin. I said: ‘Steven. General Colin Powell is on the phone.’ “Mom, this is no time to joke,” he replied. ‘Steven, it really is General Colin Powell.”

 

As sick as Steven was, he took the phone and sat up real straight in the chair. He said, ‘Hello.’ Then he said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘No Sir.’ ‘Yes sir.’ ‘Well I’m just a little nervous sir.’ Then Steven thanked General Colin Powell for calling. When I wrote General Colin Powell a thank you note, I mentioned that he was able to do something for Steven that his own mother couldn’t do, and that was to make him forget his pain for five minutes.”

“What I miss most about Steven,” said his brother Jim “was his willingness to help the underdog. If we were driving down the road and he saw someone walking, he’d stop to pick them up, even though that wasn’t the safest thing to do. He was always willing to do that. I was in the car when he picked up people. I wouldn’t have taken the initiative to stop to pick up strangers like Steven would have. I would like my boys, (Shane 13, Mitchell 12, and Steven 7) to have some of Steven’s characteristics like his willingness to stop to help people in the time of need.”

Steven’s mother remembered that Steven wanted to be there to watch his nephews grow up. Before his death, neither Shane nor Mitchell were four-years-old yet. Jim’s third son Steven had not yet been born, Today, Shane and Mitchell barely remember their Uncle Steven, or how, several weeks before he died, as sick as he was, he took them fishing.

Alyce Hutchison-Doss is currently a member of Operation Home Front, an organization committed to helping veterans. For more information, log onto operationhomefront.com