Thanks of a Grateful Nation (1998)

 

 

 

Director:    Rod Holcomb.

Starring:    Jennifer Jason Leigh (Teri), Ted Danson (Jim Tuite), Brian Dennehy (Sen. Donald Riegle), Marg Helgenberger (Jerrilynn Folz), Steven Weber (Jared Gallimore), Matt Keeslar (Chris Small).

Based on the experiences of Gulf War veterans of the Gulf War, some of whom returned with a mysterious malady that the government long asserted was not a real illness, but rather just a psychological phenomenon.

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

A group of special forces fellows are in a bar having fun.  They say they are "ready to get Sadam Hussein".  A soldier named Chris Small is taken with a girl named Teri.  He talks to her and says she is just his type.  She, however, is a pretty skeptical girl.  She's been married twice before.  But Teri adds that she has learned from her mistakes and has corrected them. 

February 1991.  Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  Teri Small has to say good-bye to her husband who is headed over to fight the Gulf War. 

February 24, 1991.  The ground war begins.   A FOX vehicle (especially designed to detect chemical attacks) picks up signs of mustard gas. 

Chris Small sends his wife a package containing his army clothing.  Teri uses the folded up army shirt as a pillow, but the next morning notices that she has a very angry red rash on her face, neck and shoulders.  

In Waco, Texas Jared Gallimore and his married sister Jerrilynn Folz prepare for Jared's going to the Gulf region.  It seems a little strange that he is going as a private contract worker while the troops are coming home. 

In Washington D.C. Jim Tuite is the new defense legislative assistant for Senator Don Riegle of Michigan.  Others in the office think Jim is not among the greatest of fellows. 

Sgt. Robertson is outprocessing.  He complains to the army doctors that he has flu symptoms, is fatigued and always tired. 

Teri Small meets her husband Chris at the airport.  She later goes to the army doctor and tells him that she notices that every time almost immediately after sex with Chris she gets a terrible pain in the groin area as if his semen were toxic.

The army doctors tell Sgt. Robertson  that they do not know what he has.  They try to put him on prozac, but the sergeant refuses saying that he is not depressed and there is nothing wrong with his mind.  He is just physically, not mentally, sick.  The problem is that the doctors won't believe him. 

Texan civilian Jared Gallimore works in post-war clean up in Kuwait City. 

Mrs. Small notices that husband Chris is sweaty, exhausted, losing weight and has had certain personality changes. 

The Oversight and Investigations Committee says that the problems of the Gulf War vets is due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

The defense legislative assistant is a Vietnam War veteran who resents the easy time the Gulf War veterans have had compared to his generation of soldiers.  He does not want to read the growing number of letters his boss Senator Riegle is receiving from Desert Storm veterans, but is given the job of summarizing the content of the letters anyway.  He puts off reading them. 

Chris Small has developed rashes all over his face. 

The Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illnesses.  A Gulf War veteran shows them the terrible bleeding rash he has all over his back.  They still, however, do not associate this with a Gulf War syndrome of any kind.

The Americans lost 148 dead in the Gulf War, 44 of which were not even from hostile fire. 

Teri Small finally forces her husband to see an army doctor about his medical problems.  He has lost 35 pounds and has terrible rashes.  The doctor tells him that he is depressed, but his troubles are psycho-somatic, not service-related.

Jared Gallimore has returned home from Kuwait.  He starts to become all sweaty and doesn't feel right.  The doctors tell his sister that he has a swelling of the brain and a tumor and that they have to operate on him immediately.   Jared does not want to deal with the problem, but his determined sister makes him go for the draining of the excess fluid and the brain tumor removal operations.  Later the doctor who operated on Jared tells his sister and mother that he has never seen the phenomenon before  --  two cancers in one cell at the same time.  He only gives Jared one to one-and-a-half years to live. 

In the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the female Dr. Dove says that there is no proof of a Gulf War syndrome and that more study has to be done on sick vets to say anything definitive.  All she can suggest is that the sick vets be patient. 

The baby girl of Chris and Teri Small has the same terrible red rash that her mother and father have.  Chris complains to Teri that the army has lowered his fitness rating and docked his pay.  Later Teri learns that all Chris's medical files are missing.  Either or both the Defense Department and the Veterans' Administration are destroying the vets' medical records or they are not recording the data in the first place. 

Teri returns home to find Chris lying face down on the lawn with a 104 degree temperature.  She takes him to the army hospital and the female doctor tells her that that he will have to be medi-vacked to Walter Reed Hospital.  But then the doctor returns to say that he cannot be taken to Walter Reed because there is no such thing as Gulf War syndrome. 

Legislative assistant Jim Tuite has now become convinced of a Gulf War syndrome and he turns from reluctant assistant to advocacy for the cause of the veterans.  A veteran sets a meeting up with him in secret.  The man is afraid that if his employers find out that he has given information to the Gulf War syndrome advocates, he will lose his job.  The vet keeps his identity hidden, but does tell Tuite to follow the weapons:  "Where did the weapons come from?"

Mrs. Small is interviewed on television and tells the interviewer about missing health records for the vets.  Her husband becomes extremely angry with her telling her that "If I'm sick, they'll kick me out" of the service.  He also commented that people are beginning to say about him that he can't control his wife. 

Legislative assistant Jim Tuite finally has a "eureka" event.  He finds that the chemical and biological weapons storage facilities in Iraq were bombed by the Allies and then the prevailing winds brought the toxins down to Allied soldiers in Kuwait and southern Iraq.  His information finally excites his boss, Senator Riegle and he decides that he will promote the idea that something must be done for the vets sick from Gulf War syndrome.

Chris Small forces his wife to go to a military dance where she is snubbed publicly for her work on Gulf War syndrome.  Teri then learns that her husband is being transferred to Hawaii where families are not allowed to accompany the soldiers.  Chris tells Teri to file for divorce. 

Jim Tuite realizes that it was the Americans who in the years 1985 to 1989 supplied the Iraqis with the chemical and biological weapons that the Allies later exploded during the Gulf War and thereby released on their own soldiers. 

The president of the New Jersey chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of American Gary Wall speaks passionately before one of the many committees on Gulf War syndrome.  Teri Small is inspired by his example and talks to him after his appearance before the committee.  But he is much less passionate and much more pessimistic and cynical in private.  It will still be a long hard fight. 

Jim Tuite and company are set to release their findings on their investigations into Gulf War Syndrome.  They get a call from Lt. Col. Ryerson claiming that the Joints Chiefs of Staff have decided that they cannot release the report.  She quotes General Powell about there being no proof of a Gulf War syndrome.  Tuite tells the general that he is still going to distribute the report. 

Riegle holds his own hearings into the matter of the Gulf War syndrome.  He is very critical of the Secretary of Defense for his negative attitude toward even a fair hearing on the matter.  The secretive vet calls Tuite asking for another meeting in private.  He gives Tuite all the information he has collected over the years on Gulf War syndrome in paper cartons stacked in a large pile.  He says that "they" have been accessing his private computer and erasing the files he has collected dealing with the Gulf War syndrome.

Teri Small gets a call at work telling her that her ex-husband is AWOL from Hawaii.  She then gets a different call, one from someone who tells her that Chris had been sent to Walter Reed Hospital to take part is a government study of Gulf War syndrome, but that he just simply left the hospital and no one knows where he has gone. 

In Texas sister Jerrilynn Folz finally makes the decision to stop the treatments keeping her brother alive.  Shortly afterwards, Jared Gallimore dies. 

Jim Tuite has finally found Sgt. George Grass whose Fox vehicle recorded toxic levels of mustard gas during the Gulf War. Even so, the spokesmen for the Department of Defense play the game of deny, deny, deny.  They claim that all 14 reports of toxic chemicals in the area were reported to be false.  One of the members of the panel asks the key question of just would it take for the army to believe a report of toxic chemicals being in the atmosphere. 

Washington Post. June 22, 1996.    After years of denial the Pentagon says that 300 to 400 soldiers were exposed to toxic chemicals.

September 22, 1996.  The Pentagon says the figure is now 5,000.

October 23, 1996.  The Pentagon admits that the real figure approaches 21,000.

July 24, 1997.  The Pentagon reports the real figure to be 100,000. 

October 26, 1997.  The Department of Defense and the Veterans' Administration are stripped entirely of their authority over the matter of Gulf War syndrome. 

 

Good movie and well-needed.  It is maddening that the United States government so eagerly sends its young men to fight in various wars, many of which are not justified, at great expense to the nation, but then does not want to foot the entire medical bill for all the damage done to those very same young men.  Some of the estimates of the final cost of the Iraq War are from $1 to $1.5 trillion dollars and yet the Veterans' Administration is housing veterans waiting for medical care in substandard housing filled with filth and rats.   If you are going to spend $1.5 trillion dollars on a war, what's a couple billion more here or there?

After tricks like these, is it any wonder that so many in the nation are skeptical and cynical about the motivations of Department of Defense and the Veterans' Administration and, indeed, the entire country?  The starters of wars want to fund the wars but not pay all the bills consequent to the wars. Veterans of the Gulf War were dying of Gulf War syndrome, while the Department of Defense and the Veterans' Administration deliberately and willfully denied that there even was a Gulf War syndrome.  They deliberately watched young soldiers die in order not to pay their full medical bills.  They wasted years before they finally agreed that an urgent effort was needed to research and combat the syndrome.  (Many families also went financially bankrupt because they had to pay private doctors to take them seriously and attempt to heal them.)

The United States people should be ashamed of themselves, but they never seem to be.  They never take responsibility for their cruel and callous resistance to paying their full war bills.  You know, if they can't or won't pay the full bill, they really shouldn't start the wars. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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