RALEIGH, N.C. — Marine Capt. Dave Fournier spends most of his time in a chair or in bed, too tired to do more. His sleep is interrupted by night sweats. He's been hospitalized at Camp Lejeune with pneumonia and heart problems.
He's also rapidly going bald. All of this began occurring since the 41-year-old Fournier returned 16 months ago from the Persian Gulf War.
Doctors can't identify the cause.
"Every time I take a shower, I lose hundreds of strands of hair," Fournier said. "Right now, I suspect it might be hydrocarbon poisoning from the oil fires."
Fumes from the Kuwaiti oil well fires set by Iraq are blamed by Fournier and other war veterans for mysterious and lingering ailments.
When Indiana reservists complained of such symptoms, an Army study of 79 war veterans resulted in a military finding that stress may be the cause of their postwar fatigue, aches and breathing problems.
But recently doctors found high levels of hydrocarbons in the blood of a Navy veteran in Texas.
Also, military officials acknowledged that more study is needed of the effects of inhaling fumes from burning oil wells.
"This is a significant issue," said Terry Jemison, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington. The VA and the Pentagon are working to "flush out the state of scientific knowledge" on such health problems, he said.
The VA says 17,000 gulf veterans have visited its hospitals since the war ended Feb. 29, 1991, but few have filed smoke-related disability claims.
At Ft. Bragg, a private group called the Military Family Support Network has a file of 100 soldiers who it says have suffered an unusually high number of illnesses, birth defects and miscarriages.
Charles Weatherman, a Marine veteran from Waynesville who suffers from stomach pains, cramps, shortness of breath and hair loss, hopes they hurry.
"I'm just about bald on top, and I had a full head of hair when I went to the Gulf," Weatherman said.