News and Tribune

Clark County

June 25, 2009

Indiana Rep. Baron Hill pushes for health care for Iraq veterans exposed to chemicals

Hoosier guardsman among those with symptoms

It took the U.S. government decades to acknowledge the effects the herbicide Agent Orange had on soldiers exposed to the chemical while serving in Vietnam.

Rep. Baron Hill, a Democrat serving Indiana’s 9th district, doesn’t want to wait 30 years to address similar problems encountered by veterans of the Iraq War.

In May, Hill introduced the Health Care for Members of the Armed Forces Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act. If passed, the measure and its counterpart in the Senate would setup a registry for service members and veterans exposed to toxic chemicals in the line of duty.

Applicable veterans would receive medical tests and with review by the Department of Defense, they would be eligible for health care at Veterans Affairs’ facilities.

The registry would be similar to the Agent Orange list, with the government to research links between illnesses suffered by veterans serving in an area where chemical exposure occurred.

“We have a duty to protect the health and safety of our soldiers,” Hill stated in a news release Wednesday. “And, we have a duty to ensure their medical needs are taken care of and to prevent others from similar suffering.”

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-OR, co-sponsored the legislation with Hill, adding an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act also addressing the issue.

National Guard members from Indiana, Oregon, West Virginia and South Carolina were exposed to the chemical Sodium Dichromate while guarding a water treatment plant in Iraq in 2003.

At least one of the soldiers has died — David Moore passed away from lung disease at age 42.

“This case has brought to light the need for systemic reform,” said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.

Bayh wants to hold hearings investigating the role of private contractors in the case and how the government should handle potential chemical threats to soldiers.

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