July 28, 2008 – A Mobile woman says she was encouraged recently when a Department of Veterans Affairs appeals judge agreed to review a claim involving her late husband, who believed that his Army exposure to radiation triggered his deadly cancer.
Theresa Orrell said she has been struggling with the VA over her husband’s case for nine years, seeking acknowledgement of the dangers that he faced, as well as compensation for her family.
About six weeks before dying in 1999, Lt. Col. William A. Orrell III, an Army Reserve officer, filed a claim with the VA, certain that his pancreatic cancer was connected with his encounter with depleted uranium in Kuwait. He was 56 when he died.
Last month, an appeals judge, Lisa Barnard, took Orrell’s depleted uranium death claim under advisement after a hearing in Montgomery. A ruling is expected in six to nine months.
“I was encouraged because this judge was more down-to-earth than the previous judge and she wanted all the facts,” Theresa Orrell said.
She has pursued her husband’s case while working and earning a degree from Spring Hill College to better support her three children.
Lt. Col. Orrell had gone to Kuwait in June of 1991 as commander of the 1103rd Transportation Battalion with the job of rounding up American military vehicles used in Operation Desert Storm for return to the United States, according to his wife.
There had been a huge explosion and fire involving U.S. military vehicles containing depleted uranium on July 11, 1991, in Doha, Kuwait, and he was sent two days later to inspect them, she said. That’s when he believed he was exposed to high levels of radiation, Theresa Orrell said. She said the vehicles were still smoldering while he inspected them.
Depleted uranium is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process and because of its high density is used as a shield to protect U.S. military vehicles. It is also used in the manufacturing of munitions, such as armor-piercing bullets and tank shells.
There has been extensive controversy about depleted uranium and its possible toxic effects on U.S military personnel who have served in Kuwait and Iraq.
A VA spokesman in Washington, D.C., said recently that he could not comment on the Orrell case until Theresa Orrell signs and returns to the agency a privacy waiver. The spokesman said a VA official was not immediately available to discuss the depleted uranium issue in general as pertains to the VA.
Theresa Orrell is seeking compensation and dependents’ assistance for herself and her three children since they owe about $86,000 in college loans, she said. Two of the children have completed college, while the youngest is a sophomore at the University of South Alabama.
She noted that she has a video in which her husband reported that he went to Doha after the explosion to check on the vehicles. She said he told her that the Army did not provide him with protective gear.
At the June 27 appeals hearing, she said, the judge agreed that her husband was at Doha at the time that he claimed. The appeals case rests on a decision by the VA concerning the radiation levels at the site of the fire, Theresa Orrell said.
William Orrell enrolled at the University of South Alabama in 1964 – the first year of the school – and was the first editor of the school’s Vanguard publication, Theresa Orrell said. He went on to graduate from the Army’s Officer Candidate School and served for 35 years in the Army Reserve and the National Guard.
Theresa Orrell said her husband was a patriot who volunteered for service in both Bosnia and Operation Desert Storm.
“I want the Army to say my husband died because of his service to his country,” she said.