While American troops did not find weapons of mass destruction, more than 600 soldiers since 2003 have reported to military medical staff members that they may have been exposed to abandoned chemical weapons in Iraq, according to a report from the New York Times on Thursday.
Last month, an investigation by the Times initially disclosed at least 17 cases of American service members who were injured by sarin or sulfur mustard agent after 2003. At the time of the investigation, the government’s official tally of exposed troops was classified. But an internal review of Pentagon records ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has revealed that 629 people answered “yes” to the following post-deployment health assessment question: “Do you think you were exposed to any chemical, biological and radiological warfare agents during this deployment?” The same people also filled in the block with information indicating chemical agent exposure, according to the Times.
The new and larger count indicates there could have been more encounters than the U.S. has acknowledged and that others—including foreign soldiers, private contractors and Iraqi troops and civilians—may have also been at risk.
Col. Jerome Buller, a spokesman for the Army surgeon general, told the Times Thursday that each person who answered the questionnaire would have received a medical consultation at the end of their combat tour. But the military failed to take further steps. For over a decade, the Pentagon kept this chapter of the Iraq occupation from view. Officials failed to compile the data, track veterans with related medical complaints or circulate warnings about risk to soldiers and to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
SOURCE: Morgan Winsor
International Business Times