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News Release


Release No: 414-98
August 04, 1998


The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have instituted a new medical follow-up program to evaluate veterans with exposures to Depleted Uranium (DU) which have been determined to have produced the highest resultant dosage. This program will allow scientific documentation of the presence or absence of medical effects from such DU exposures.

Approximately 300 soldiers will be contacted by the office of the special assistant for Gulf War illnesses to validate their DU exposure and to encourage them to participate in the medical follow-up program. The evaluation will consist of a complete physical examination, a DU exposure questionnaire and a 24-hour urine collection for uranium level. This program will identify veterans with higher than normal levels of uranium in their urine and provide them appropriate monitoring and follow-up, if required. Soldiers are expected to have normal levels of uranium in their urine unless they have DU fragments embedded in their bodies.

The highest exposure to DU occurred during friendly fire incidents in which US combat vehicles were struck by DU munitions fired from US M1A1 tanks. Soldiers riding in or on these vehicles may have been exposed to DU by fragments embedding in their bodies, inhalation and ingestion of DU particles created upon penetration, and wound contamination. The DoD believes this group includes about 113 soldiers. Rescuers and others who entered the vehicles immediately after a hit may have also been exposed. Salvage operations on tanks struck by DU could have also led to medically significant exposures. There were approximately 200 soldiers in this group. After results are evaluated from testing these individuals, a decision will be made if there is a medical reason to continue testing lower levels of possible exposure.

Some veterans are concerned about potential exposures due to climbing on damaged Iraqi vehicles or due to being in the South Compound during the fire at Doha, Kuwait in July 1991. These potential exposures were such low levels that they are not believed to be of medical significance. However, veterans with questions because of these lower exposure situations may refer themselves to the DoD or VA for medical advice. If they or their physicians believe it is warranted, they will receive a DU medical evaluation. "Since early 1997, my office has been conducting an investigation into the use of depleted uranium munitions and armor in the Gulf War," said Dr. Bernard Rostker, Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses. "This new program will identify, contact and evaluate the veterans who are believed to have received the greatest DU exposures to ensure they receive appropriate evaluation and follow-up, if necessary. The health of Gulf War veterans is extremely important to us."

The office of the special assistant for Gulf War illnesses will call veterans with the highest exposure to DU to inform them about the DoD and DVA depleted uranium medical screening program and to encourage them to enroll. Information will also be gathered to identify additional personnel who were potentially exposed to DU.

Depleted uranium is a by-product of the uranium enrichment process and is about 40 % less radioactive than natural uranium. It has been incorporated into both projectiles and armor by the military of the United States and other countries because of its density, availability, and relative cost. DU projectiles are capable of penetrating armor made with less dense metals, and DU armor provides a high degree of shielding. During the Gulf War the US used DU munitions for the first time.

The Baltimore Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been following 33 DU-exposed veterans since 1993. They had all been hospitalized because of their wounds. About half still have retained fragments of DU.

Veterans can call 1-800-472-6719 to talk about their experiences or ask questions about the efforts of the Office of the Special Assistant. An interactive Internet side, GulfLINK, can be accessed at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil.

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