health impacts of depleted uranium
(DU) munitions on soldiers who served in the
Iraq and the Persian Gulf Wars will be studied
by Congress' General Accounting Office, according
to two congressmen who have requested a new
investigation into whether the Pentagon has
ignored the medical consequences of the armaments.
are requesting further investigation by the
GAO of the study of veterans exposed to DU
during the 1991 Gulf War, and an assessment
of current DoD [Department of Defense] and
DVA [Department of Veterans Affairs] policies
to identify and provide medical care for veterans
exposed to DU during Operation Iraqi Freedom,"
wrote Reps. Bob Filner, D-Calif., and Ciro
Rodriguez, D-Texas, in a Dec. 3 letter requesting
the congressional inquiry.
are many uncertainties about depleted uranium,
but one thing is clear: the Department of
Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs
have refused to conduct an adequate study
of veterans exposed to DU on the battlefield,"
said Dan Fahey, a former board member of the
National Gulf War Resource Center, a veterans
organization, who helped the congressmen frame
the GAO inquiry.
"Congressmen Filner and Rodriguez have once
again demonstrated their concern for the health
of veterans by asking the GAO to investigate
what appear to be serious flaws in the VA's
study of veterans exposed to DU," Fahey said.
"The Pentagon has admitted that thousands
of veterans may have been "unnecessarily"
exposed to DU during and after the 1991 war‹including
approximately 900 veterans with significant
exposures‹but this year the VA assessed the
health status of just 32 veterans."
GAO study of DU's health impacts on soldiers
is significant because the very dense and
slightly radioactive metal is used extensively
in bullets and shells fired by U.S. tanks
and jets. It is a byproduct of making nuclear
fuel and is more effective than lead bullets,
making DU bullets and warheads a key component
of the military's arsenal.
projectiles puncture almost all metal targets.
Due to its m ass and velocity, it breaks up
and vaporizes into micron-sized particles
upon impact. The Pentagon says DU is safe,
but veteran advocates are skeptical, saying
the military should scientifically study the
most-exposed soldiers to see if they develop
illnesses tied to low-level radiation exposure.
Such exposure would come from either inhaling
or ingesting airborne DU particles from destroyed
Iraqi targets or from friendly fire accidents,
and the related emergency responses and subsequent
health impacts of DU have been a controversial
issue. Some anti-nuclear activists say there
are traces of deadly nuclear isotopes in the
metal, because it is made from spent fuel
rods from nuclear power plants. But leading
medical journals in the United States and
England say more study is needed before definitive
conclusions can be reached.
Iraq, where the Christian Science Monitor
last spring reported an estimated 75 tons
of the metal was used by the U.S. Air Force
last winter and remains scattered on the ground,
the military has posted signs in some places
warning people to stay away from destroyed
targets. Subsequent statements by the British
and American militaries lead independent analysts
to estimate that 100-to-150 metric tons of
DU was used in the Iraq War.
congressmen, drawing on research prepared
by Fahey, have asked the GAO to study whether
DU can be linked to cancers and other diseases
among Iraq and Persian Gulf War veterans.
Before the Iraq War, Fahey unsuccessfully
tried to persuade the VA to independently
study these same issues.
own laboratory studies confirm DU may cause
cancer, tumors, neurological damage, and reproductive
effects, but the possible connection between
DU and disease development in the vast majority
of exposed veterans remains unexamined, and
therefore, unknown," the congressmen¹s letter
said. "This is of particular concern because
it is now almost 13 years since the war, and
the latency period for the development of
many cancers possibly related to DU is 10
to 30 years."
cited Fahey's belief that the Pentagon officials
have made "false statements" about "the existence
of a rare Hodgkin's lymphoma and a bone tumor
among veterans in the DU Program, signaling
a breakdown in the integrity of the study."
at least two occasions in 2001, DoD spokesmen
falsely claimed that no veterans in the DU
Program had developed cancer, in an apparent
attempt to dampen controversy in Europe about
the use of DU munitions in the Balkans," they
wrote. "In addition, in April 2003, an Army
doctor was quoted in press stories falsely
claiming that no veterans in the DU Program
had developed any tumors. These prevarications
beg the question of whether other health effects
have been observed among these veterans, but
"army doctor" was Dr. Michael Kilpatrick of
the Office of the Special Assistant Secretary
of Defense for Health Affairs, who is among
the top-raking Pentagon officials who create
military health policy. Those remarks were
made at a NATO briefing.
congressman also noted that the Pentagon "previously
misled" GAO investigators and the Department
of Veterans Affairs about "the extent of veterans'
exposures to DU during the 1991 war" and said
there was "cause for concern that DoD is not
providing complete and accurate information
about DU exposures in Iraq."
said this pattern of repressing information
continues to this day.
VA is failing in its duty to assist veterans
exposed to a known carcinogen on the battlefield,
but sadly, it appears that the Pentagon is
calling the shots when it comes to DU policy,"
Fahey said. "Even now, as our troops continue
to fight and die in Iraq, the Pentagon refuses
to disclose information about its use of DU,
or release information to the United Nations
Environment Programme about the quantities
and locations of DU expenditure."
said a serious inquiry by the GAO could clear
up these and other unknowns. "There is a serious
lack of transparency and accountability when
it comes to Pentagon and VA policy on DU,
but this GAO investigation is a huge first
step in understanding what‹if any‹health effects
DU has caused among U.S. troops."
Filner and Rodriguez said the results of the
GAO study could lead to legislation reorganizing
the military's DU health programs.
on the findings of this GAO investigation,
we may wish to introduce legislation requiring
a restructuring of the DU Program and extending
service-connected benefits to veterans who
develop health conditions, such as certain
types of cancer that can plausibly be caused
by a significant DU exposure," they wrote.
GAO investigation would most likely be completed
by next summer.
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