NY Proposes task force to study DU health effects

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NICK REISMAN
Albany bureau
Gannett

(April 13, 2006) – ALBANY – While it’s unknown how many former
servicemen and -women have been exposed to depleted uranium used in
weaponry, the side effects need to be studied before many U.S. veterans
become seriously ill, say some state lawmakers.

“Uranium is in a lot of these weapons that a lot of our servicemen and
-women use – it’s the junk weaponry that may, whatever, be the problem,”
said Sen. Thomas Morahan, R-New City, Rockland County. “I say ‘may’
because we’re not sure. If it is (a) developing (problem), we need to
make sure the people of New York state we have that serve in Iraq get
the treatment.”

Morahan has sponsored a bill that would require the state Division of
Veterans’ Affairs to help veterans who were exposed to any hazardous
chemicals while in combat tap in to federal aid, including medical
services and tests.

Harvey McCagg, a spokesman for the state Division of Veteran’s Affairs,
said that the agency already ensures that former soldiers get the
assistance they need.

“We’ve been doing that since 1945. That’s the core mission of the
division,” he said. “That includes (obtaining) health care, economic and
social benefits.”

The proposal would create a state task force to study the effects of
depleted uranium and other hazardous materials on soldiers. The task
force would also set up a registry of veterans who may have been exposed
since the first Gulf War.

Co-sponsors, including Assemblyman Jeffery Dinowitz, D-Bronx, said they
weren’t sure what the cost of the program would be to the state but said
it wouldn’t be high.

Morahan compared depleted uranium exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical
used during the Vietnam War. The harmful effects of exposure to the
chemical on both soldiers and Vietnamese civilians weren’t studied until
years later. That can’t happen again, he said.

“Our people are going from one climate to another part of the world
without some of the immunizations,” Morahan said. “Agent Orange caused
tremendous problems not just for the GI coming home but the family as
well.”

Because it’s combat-durable, depleted uranium is used to manufacture
armaments, such as armor for tanks.

While he doesn’t know any former service members who have come forward
with the problem specifically, McCagg said that “a number of former
servicemen from New York” have gone through depleted uranium testing.

“Certainly in the first Gulf War we had members come back exposed,” said
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Jim Benson. Benson said
that some veterans of the war joined a long-term study spanning the last
two decades, which is not finished.

“It’s not in the federal government’s interest for this issue to be
exposed because it (depleted uranium) makes such an excellent, efficient
weapon,” said Joan Walker of the No DU Coalition of the Hudson Valley.

GANNETT@Albany.net