[T]he government’s interest in veterans cases is not that it shall win, but rather that justice shall be done, that all veterans so entitled receive the benefits due to them.” Barrett v. Nicholson, 466 F.3d 1038, 1044 (Fed.Cir.2006)
06 November 2014
Military Hid Info About Old Iraqi Chemical Weapons – troops exposed
Hundreds of American service members were exposed to Iraqi chemical weapons between 2003 and recent months. Several news outlets, including Fox, CNN, The New York Times and the Associated Press, today reported that the Pentagon had withheld information from troops, Congress and even senior military leadership. Pentagon officials briefed the media and offered initial details.
More than 600 U.S. service members told military medical staff that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, The New York Times reported Thursday. Pentagon officials said the department will now expand its outreach to veterans and establish a toll-free hotline for reporting potential exposures and seeking medical evaluation or care, the newspaper said.
Recently, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered an internal review of military records after the Times reported in October that U.S. troops encountered degraded chemical weapons from the 1980s that had been hidden or used in makeshift bombs. The initial newspaper report disclosed that 17 service members had been injured by sarin or sulfur mustard agent, and several more came forward after the story appeared, the Times said Thursday.
The Army's Public Health Command collects standardized medical-history surveys, known as post-deployment health assessments, which troops fill out as they complete combat tours, the newspaper reported. Those who responded "yes" to a question about exposure to such warfare agents — "Do you think you were exposed to any chemical, biological and radiological warfare agents during this deployment?" — were asked to provide a brief explanation.
The review ordered by Hagel showed that 629 people answered "yes" to that question and also filled in a block with information indicating chemical agent exposure, Col. Jerome Buller, a spokesman for the Army surgeon general, told the newspaper. Each person who answered the questionnaire would have received a medical consultation at the end of their combat tour, Buller said.
The Times reported that it was not clear why the military did not take further steps, such as including compiling the data as it accumulated over more than a decade, tracking veterans with related medical complaints, or circulating warnings about risks to soldiers and to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Operationally, questions immediately arise about why EOD personnel were not briefed on these threats, and why medical personnel were not informed that chemical injuries were a continuing battlefield threat.
This is troubling news to all veterans, and we wish those affected by these chemical weapons the best of care and every possible assistance from DOD and the VA. It is troubling that both the Pentagon and the VA continue to explain to C-123 veterans that, by VA's unique redefinition of the word "exposure," none of us were exposed (in their view.) Hopefully the same unscientific (or "ludicrous," in the view of a health official in another federal agency) redefinition won't be used to block care for more current chemical injuries. VA must be prevented from redefining exposure to prevent exposure claims. Congress, and the IOM, must realize that VA provides wonderful medical care but also has shown itself unreliable, and untrustworthy, by preventing veterans' access to that care.
That VA redefinition, established by VA's own Post Deployment Health Section, is: Exposure = contamination field + bioavailability. No proof of bioavailability, means no concession that exposure occurred and the VA eagerly dumps the claim. Questions must arise about why VA and DOD together oppose designating toxic C-123 transports proved to be contaminated with Agent Orange as Agent Orange sites, questions certain to only be asked more loudly following this revelation and its proof that policies often trump veterans' health needs.