Attn: Desert Storm Veterans – GeoVelo is mapping Desert Storm.
Why Map Desert Storm?
GeoVelo believes that good digital web with the location of individual service members, units, and the areas of environmental exposure will serve our veterans because during Desert Storm service members were exposed to numerous unexpected and unusual hazardous conditions in America’s first Toxic War. Linking the exposure to individual veterans and their units will bolster the veteran’s claims.
Our Goal: Stronger Claims
This project aims to help veterans, and their families, produce map graphics to bolster and supplement the individual veteran’s disability and exposure claims. By submitting a disability application with a custom map showing maps which are more detailed than those currently available, we believe that will increase the chances of the VA approving the veteran’s claim. By producing a comprehensive map and unit location database we believe we may eventually lead to some long over due action by Congress, and the potential expansion of some presumptions by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA’s Two Types of Claims
There are two types of VA claims that this project could support. There are the presumption claims and there are proximity (my word) claims.
- A presumption claim is where if you are presenting certain medical symptoms and you were in a certain place at a certain time, then the VA makes the presumption that your medical condition is related to your service. Some of the Viet Nam veterans who were in country and who have certain symptoms or diseases are presumed to have a service connected disability. Others, like my Uncle Patrick who was just off-shore of Viet Nam, have the same diseases but do not get the benefit of the presumption. The burden to prove their service caused their disease is on them.
- An example of a proximity claim might be a PTSD claim by a servicemember who was deployed but not necessarily in combat but nonetheless saw some pretty horrific things. These veterans must prove their “stressor” = the thing that led to PTSD with “corroborating evidence.” Combat veterans, generally speaking, don’t have to corroborate stressors, but combat means being “engaged in combat with the enemy” which itself is ill defined. The facts of the case control, and facts are based on time and place. By proving time and place, veterans can improve their chance of prevailing at the VA.
Before, during and after Desert Storm service members were exposed to more than our share of hazards: some environmental and some were just the nature of the job. The complete list of hazards is well-documented, but let’s briefly review the most serious Gulf War Environmental Hazards:
- Khamisiyah Demolition – Chemical & Biological Weapons Agents
- Depleted Uranium (DU) – Used in Military Ordnance
- Pyridostigmine Bromide (PB) – Prophylactic Drug for Nerve Agent
- 9 Infectious Diseases
- Heat Injuries
- Burn Pits – Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pits
- Experimental Vaccinations – Anthrax and Botulinum Toxoid
- Chem Agent Resistant Coating (CARC) – Military Vehicle Paint
- Concussive Forces – Shooting, Artillery, Cannons…TBI
- Smoke – Oil Well Fires After the Ground War
- Noise – Gunfire, Artillery, Demolitions
- Occupational Hazards – Lots of Dangerous Jobs
- Developing World (Effective) Pesticides – Zipp!
- Toxic Embedded Fragments – Uranium, Tungsten, Lead, Zircon
- Diesel Fuel – Contamination Everywhere!
Mapping tools can be used to prove time and place claims made by the veteran. This projects hopes to locate and use the readily available supply of geographic information in the hands of both the government and individual service members. Once processed and presented within a modern computer mapping context, that location data will bolster a veteran’s claim, or help supplement their appeal the VA’s denial of their claim.
Planned Project Phases
- Test Run: The first step was to figure out where and how the federal government stores combat-related geospatial data. Unfortunately, that is a task worthy of a lifetime and a team of researchers. But, that information is out there. I found my own units logs from Desert Storm. They record the fact that the 47th Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit rendered safe, removed, or destroyed at least 1,135,566 items of military ordnance from Jan 2, 1991 through May 16, 1991 an they included location information. That was the first data set mapped. The first phase of the project was never about solving everyone’s location on day one. It was meant to introduce what we believe can be a cost-effective tool to support our veterans as they fight the after effects of their service.
- Platform Development: Right now we are using an online web map application that serves our needs. The platform we use may change as the project grows. To see the maps go to: http://maps.geovelo.org/geovelo/maps
- Call For Maps: This phase involves putting out a call on social media asking service members to send us their location information. As that information comes in it will be classified, organized, vetted and mined. It will also be made posted to the web if the submitting servicemember allows us to share it. We are just starting this phase.
- Freedom of Information Requests: The next logical step is to go after the information in the government’s possession. These data sets are likely to be the most informative and valuable, althewhile also the most difficult to obtain.
- Mapping: This phase is ongoing and will likely only be interrupted if we need to concentrate on data management.
- Fine Tuning: This will also be a continual effort as we see the mapping project serving a greater number of veterans.
- Project Expansion: If I am allowed to dream a little, I’d like to see this project grow. To support our veterans, we need to map the following (Please forgive me if I miss something important):
- AGENT ORANGE: We need to map the exact areas and times where agent orange was applied, and the locations of the units affected.
- DESERT STORM: We need to map unit locations and we need to really examine the existing plume models for accuracy. And as new things are declassified we need to incorporate them into the maps.
- GWOT COMBAT: We need to map areas where service members were engaged in combat during the Global War on Terror. Fortunately, there is an amazing amount of information on this topic in formats that are map friendly.
- Linking to Additional Resources: This phase will involve finding solid information and linking to those sources.
By using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) I was able to map my unit’s log entries, convert map graphics from the CIA’s reports, and include other official source material. Using the CIA’s reports I was able to map the 1997 and 2000 plume models. The process works. Despite getting a letter from the VA years ago telling me I was not in the downwind hazard area of the Pit demolition, I was able to use unit logs showing the location of our EOD teams and these locations are within the plumes. This kind of mapping helps attack a central, yet unspoken assumption, found in both of the CIA’s reports. The reports assume all the troops in a given unit were located where the headquarters of that unit was reported. EOD units, like a lot of other military units, had soldiers traveling and working all over the area. My experience an EOD tech was that after the invasion was over I got up every day (except on Sundays) an my team drove somewhere and blew something up the Iraqis had paid a lot of money to purchase. Sometimes it was huge piles of their explosives. I got paid to blow up things that could hurt other people. My life has rarely been that rewarding and had that sense of purpose since. But I digress.
If you look at the map at http://maps.geovelo.org/geovelo/maps you can see how this old information was mapped using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). As far as I know, this is the only publicly available web map on the Khamisiyah incident. But this is also just a first step.
For More Information
If you have any maps, insights, unit information, or thoughts please use the form below or email me at Chris.Dunn@GeoVelo.org