NEW YORK -- It takes at least 10 minutes and a large glass of orange juice to wash down all the pills -- morphine, methadone, a muscle relaxant, an antidepressant, a stool softener. Viagra for sexual dysfunction. Valium for his nerves.
Four hours later, Herbert Reed will swallow another 15 milligrams of morphine to cut the pain clenching every part of his body. He will do it twice more before the day is done.
Since he left a bombed-out train depot in Iraq, the Army National Guard veteran has had trouble with bleeding gums. There also is blood in his urine and his stool. Bright light hurts his eyes. A tumor has been removed from his thyroid. Rashes erupt everywhere. Migraines cleave his skull. His joints ache.
There is something massively wrong with Reed, though no one is sure what it is. The Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in the Bronx has supplied him with an internist, a neurologist, a pain-management specialist, a psychologist, an orthopedic surgeon, and a dermatologist.
Reed believes that the military's new favorite weapon -- depleted uranium coating artillery shells and tanks -- has made him terrifyingly sick.
The Pentagon's arsenal of depleted uranium consists of thousands of shells and hundreds of tanks coated with the metal that is radioactive, chemically toxic, and nearly twice as dense as lead.
A shell coated with the substance pierces a tank like a hot knife through butter. As tank armor, it repels artillery assaults. It also leaves behind a fine radioactive dust with a half-life of 4.5 billion years.
Depleted uranium is a byproduct from producing enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and energy plants. It is 60 percent as radioactive as natural uranium. The United States has an estimated 1.5 billion pounds of it, sitting in hazardous storage sites across the country.
Reed, 54, is a veteran of two wars and a 20-year veteran of the New York Police Department. He was in perfect health, he says, before being deployed to Iraq.
According to military guidelines, he should have heard the words depleted uranium long before he ended up at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He should have been trained about its dangers, and how to avoid prolonged exposure .
Reed says he unknowingly breathed depleted uranium dust while living with his unit in Samawah, Iraq. He was removed in 2003 because of herniated spinal discs. Then began a series of symptoms he had never experienced in his previously healthy life.
At Walter Reed, he ran into some buddies from his unit. ``We all had migraines. We all felt sick," Reed says. ``The doctors said, `It's all in your head.' "
Then the medic from their unit showed up. He too, was suffering. That made eight sick soldiers from the 442d Military Police, an Army National Guard unit of mostly police and correctional officers from the New York area.
The medic said Dutch marines had taken over the abandoned Iraqi train depot surrounded by tank skeletons and unexploded ordnance. They had brought radiation-detection devices. The readings were so hot, the Dutch set up camp in the middle of the desert rather than live in the ruins.
``We got on the Internet," Reed said, ``and we started researching depleted uranium." Then they hired a lawyer.
Reed, Gerard Matthew, Raymond Ramos, Hector Vega, Augustin Matos, Anthony Yonnone, Jerry Ojeda, and Anthony Phillip all have depleted uranium in their urine, according to special tests conducted in Germany in 2003.
The veterans have sued the Army, claiming officials knew the hazards of depleted uranium, but concealed the risks.
The Department of Defense says depleted uranium is powerful and safe, and the VA said its tests of the urine samples came back negative. More than 2,100 soldiers from the current war have asked to be tested; only eight had depleted uranium in their urine, VA officials said.
The VA says its testing methodology is safe and accurate, but Reed says ``their test just isn't as sophisticated" as the German one.
Depleted uranium can contaminate soil and water, and coat buildings with radioactive dust. In 2005, the UN Environmental Program identified 311 polluted sites in Iraq. Cleaning them will take at least $40 million and several years, the agency said.