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Congress Needs More Veterans

Congress Needs More Veterans - Douglas Wright

On April 11 the Syrian government with the help of Russia, violated international treaties and used gas against civilians in its civil war. Over the weekend, our military, along with the British and French military bombed sites in Syria believed to be involved in the chemical attack.

News reports indicated the attack in Syria was different this time. It appears from video of the victims and from reports of doctors at the site that a combination gas was used. It had the characteristics of chlorine gas and of a deadly nerve agent. Both agents were reportedly heavier than air causing them to slink into basements where civilians were hiding from shelling.

‘Victims’ is a sanitized word. There were over 80 dead. Most were women and children.

In March an ex-Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a chemical warfare agent. Chemists in London were able to identify the agent: Novichok. Novichok is a nerve toxin that is reported to be ten times deadlier that other more studied nerve agents. It was developed in Russia between 1971 and 1993.

Both of these incidents point to two important facts. The first is the Russian government is in open violation of the Chemical Warfare Convention of 1997. 192 countries signed an agreement to stop production and stockpiling chemical warfare agents and their precursors. The second fact, based on reports from Russian scientists and from evidence in places like Syria, is that the Russians are still investigating and making chemical warfare agents.

While countries like the United States and United Kingdom have disarmed, fulfilling their obligations outlined in the treaty of 1997, the chemical warfare genie is loose on the planet once again. These chemicals are incredibly powerful nerve toxins.

While I was on the staff at the Veterans Hospital in Washington DC, I was one of two triage doctors for our hazardous material response team. During an incident like a leaking rail-road tank-car or a chemical warfare agent release, my job was to evaluate each patient who reached the hospital as soon as they got out of the ambulance.

During my military training at places like Ft. Detrick and Aberdeen Proving Grounds, I learned that just one nerve agent patient can tax the abilities of a well-stocked Critical Care Unit. Ten patients, each needing a respirator and dozens of vials of antidote treatment, may tax the health care assets of an entire city like Richmond or Washington.

The hospitals in the war-ravaged area where the attack in Syria took place are not well stocked and staffed hospitals like we have in the United States. Medical personnel, as seen on video, did their best using water to decontaminate kids and treating them with oxygen.

Many people don’t realize that the number of veterans serving in Congress has been dwindling since the 1960’s. According to the PEW Research/Congressional Research Service, the House peaked in 1967 with 75% of Congressman being veterans, while the Senate was at 81%. Today, the House is comprised of just 18.2% veterans, and the Senate is at 19%. These numbers impact the votes on use of force.

We need representatives in Congress who understand how the chemical attacks in London and Syria are linked. We need representatives who understand how this outlawed form of warfare can tax an entire city and create panic in a population. As a veteran and medical professional, I understand these issues.

I am running for Congress to offer my unique training and experiences to help protect our nation from weapons of terror like chemical warfare agents. I ask for your support at the GOP convention at JMU on May 19.

Committee to Elect Douglas Wright
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