Friday, October 2, 2009

Senators continue work on behalf of Desert Storm, Iraq vets

Written by Mannix Porterfield, Beckley, Register-Herald Reporter

(Beckley, W. Va. -  October 2, 2009) - Picking up where he left off after America’s initial foray into Persian Gulf warfare, Sen. Jay Rockefeller is pushing the Veterans Administration to offer care to West Virginia soldiers possibly exposed to chemicals six years ago in Iraq.

Rockefeller championed the cause of returnees from Desert Storm who complained of mysterious rashes, memory losses, headaches and other symptoms.

Ultimately, the West Virginia senator conducted hearings in Huntington and inspired corrective measures by the Department of Defense.

While describing progress as “good” in efforts by the DOD to review West Virginia National Guard members exposed to sodium dichromate in 2003, the senator said the matter has been handled in a “disappointing” manner so far.

“These brave soldiers weren’t warned of, or safeguarded from, exposure to this toxic chemical at the time, and they haven’t been adequately notified of potential exposure after the fact,” Rockefeller said.

The Democratic lawmaker said Friday he has worked with the Social Security Administration to find West Virginians who possibly were exposed to the chemical in a 2003 deployment to Basra.

Rockefeller is the senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs which has scheduled a hearing Thursday on the chemical exposure.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., is co-sponsoring a bill known as “Health Care for Service Members Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act,” and was among senators who sought an investigation by the Inspector General in August.

Sodium dichromate was used by former Iraqi plant workers to prevent corrosion and was detected on the ground and measured in the air.

Byrd said another concern centers on whether the Army is keeping Veterans Affairs up to date on the exposure and its potentially lethal results.

“I look forward to the findings by the Inspector General,” Byrd said.

“The hazards of war are many and often unavoidable. But we owe it to our troops, who risk so much for our nation, to provide the best possible health and medical care, whether they are injured by a bullet or by a cloud of toxic chemicals.”

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