Assemblyman Dinowitz has introduced legislation to ensure that the military personnel and veterans of New York State get the best screening and treatment for exposure to hazardous materials, particularly depleted uranium (DU).
Depleted uranium was widely used for the first time during the Gulf War to make anti-tank munitions and armor-plating for Abrams tanks. It is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process and is used in munitions and armor because of its incredibly high density. Exposure to depleted uranium becomes a health concern when it enters the body. The greatest concern for soldiers has been when they are struck by shrapnel containing uranium or when they inhale uranium particles released by the combustion of depleted uranium weapons.
The health effects of radiation exposure due to contact with depleted uranium can be devastating. Symptoms range from joint pains, muscle aches and fatigue to birth defects and chronic illnesses resulting in death. Assemblyman Dinowitz’ bill would ensure that New York’s veterans are given proper screening for radiation exposure.
The bill directs the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs to aid any soldier or veteran in obtaining federal treatment services, including the best medical practices used to screen for exposure to hazardous materials, particularly depleted uranium. Screening for radiation or chemical exposure would not only result in earlier diagnoses but would also help prevent misdiagnoses. In addition, when soldiers are given the wrong medication the side-effects could exacerbate an existing illness.
Further, the bill would establish a task force on depleted uranium to study the health effects of the exposure to hazardous materials, including, but not limited to, depleted uranium, as they relate to military service. The task force would also set up a health registry for veterans who may have been exposed since the Gulf War; develop a plan to outreach to and follow-up on exposed military personnel; and prepare a report on the effects of depleted uranium for service members and their families. The report shall include an assessment of the feasibility and cost of adding pre-deployment training concerning potential exposure to depleted uranium and other toxic chemical substances and the precautions recommended under combat and non-combat conditions while in a combat zone.
Assemblyman Dinowitz stated, “We have a moral obligation to identify the causes behind our veteran’s health problems. If our veterans are suffering as a result of exposure to depleted uranium, we must provide them with the best available medical care. This is the least we can do to show our appreciation to the men and women who so proudly sacrificed to defend our nation.”
Joan Walker of the NO DU Coalition of the Hudson Valley stressed the need to provide appropriate medical services for New York’s veterans. “The National Guard is our state fighting force. They are members of our New York family. They went to Iraq when called. They sacrificed their health for us. It is our turn to take responsibility for our New York brothers and sisters.”
Ulster County Legislator Susan Zimet stated, “I applaud Assemblyman Dinowitz for his compassion, foresight and courage to introduce this legislation on behalf of our returning veterans. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the war. Whether you are for or against it is irrelevant. We have a lot of soldiers who are coming home incredibly sick. They are asking us to help them in their fight to get the federal government to follow their own protocols for treatment of our returning veterans. What’s happening is not fair—it goes against everything we believe in.”