New Legislation Targets the Agony and Irony of Depleted Uranium Weapons
by Elaine Klein

Following the legacy of Agent Orange, thousands of American veterans are suffering poor health as a consequence of exposure to depleted uranium (DU) weapons from our own military, and they have not been receiving the assistance they require.

Grassroots movements in the states have begun pushing for help. On January 4, Jeffrey Dinowitz introduced NY Assembly Bill 9116, patterned after bills Connecticut and Louisiana passed in 2005, aimed at getting veterans the best testing for depleted uranium exposure. On March 13, Thomas Morahan sponsored the same bill in the Senate, as Senate Bill 6964. This legislation will help identify troops who have been exposed to DU, clarify the effects of DU exposure, and provide treatment for returning troops who are experiencing problems because of DU exposure. Hawaii, Minnesota, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin have similar legislation.

The NY bills also set up a task force with the following responsibilities: study health effects of exposure to hazardous materials "including but not limited to depleted uranium" in military service; study health effects of exposed NY National Guard service members and conduct a conference on the results; initiate a health registry for vets and military personnel returning from Afghanistan, Iraq or other countries in which depleted uranium and other hazardous materials are found; develop an outreach and follow-up plan; report to service members about potential exposure and precautions recommended in combat and non-combat zones.

DU, a byproduct of the nuclear power industry, is cheaply obtained by the military, and prized for its extreme density and heavy metal qualities. It is pyrophoric (can ignite spontaneously) at the high temperatures caused by friction during impact. DU munitions pierce metal, burn through targets, and create minute aerosolized and ceramicized radioactive particles. People may inhale particles or be affected through skin contact with contaminated dust. DU, a toxic heavy metal, emits radioactive particles and rays and moves gradually into bones, organs and cells.

Veterans have been exposed to DU in various ways, including direct shrapnel wounds from US depleted uranium shells received from "friendly fire." Injuries from direct fire are likely to have been recorded, but the effects from DU wounds have not been researched.

Herbert Rudolph Reed, who served in Iraq in the 442nd National Guard Military Police in 2003, explains that noncombatants were exposed through practices such as setting up a base camp in an area still hot with radioactive debris from the First Gulf War. The Dutch military pronounced this area "uninhabitable." Reed states, " When we returned to the United States, we of the 442nd had no idea why we experienced sleeplessness, skin rashes, muscle and joint aches, enlarged thyroids, burning urination, blood in urine and stools, headaches, difficulty breathing and gum disease."

Lack of information about DU exposure has led to inaccuracies on post service questionnaires that ask veterans to identify their exposure to particular hazards, resulting in skewed data. Studies of DU exposure show varying results, possibly related to timing and the type of test chosen for the type of exposure. Moreover, many veterans have had difficulty obtaining testing.

NYS Bills A9116, and S6964 guarantee eligible, honorably discharged military and Reserve National Guard veterans assistance from the State Director and NY Adjutant General in pursuing their right to "obtain federal treatment services, including a best practice health screening test for exposure to depleted uranium using a bioassay procedure involving sensitive methods capable of detecting DU at low levels and the use of equipment with the capacity to discriminate between different radioisotopes in naturally occurring levels of uranium and the characteristic ratio and marker for depleted uranium." Testing eligibility is based on risk levels assigned by the veteran's branch of service, referrals by military physicians, or veterans believing that they were exposed to DU. Federal, not state, funds will be used.

The press conference for the Assembly bill was attended by about 50 people who also participated in a Veterans March and Lobby Day. To help promote this bill and educate others, contact groups such as county Veterans Affairs offices, Disabled American Veterans groups, physicians groups, local governments, and state legislators. Urge local political committees to follow the lead of the Saugerties Democratic Committee, which passed a resolution supporting DU Bill A9116.

Veterans still on active duty who think they have symptoms of DU exposure should immediately register with the Department of Defense by calling 1-800-796-9699. Those who have left active military service should call the Veterans Administration at 1-800-PGW-VETS.

For More Information
Contact Joan Walker, of New Yorkers in Support of the NY National Guard DU Testing/Registry/Taskforce, 843-679-6938 or or or contact one of the following county representatives:
Jeanne DeSocio, 315-652-1565, (Onondaga) (Rensselaer) (Albany) (Schenec-tady)
Additional county representatives are needed!

Elaine is a member of the Depleted Uranium Network Hudson-Mohawk Region. She works as an English teacher, consultant, and freelance writer. Parts of this article were published first in "The Informed Constituent."