US Senator Byron Dorgan Receives Response from DoD IG
Posted by defensebaseactcomp on October 8, 2009
Thank you Senator Dorgan for your efforts to expose these issues.
Many Civilian Contractors working in the war zones are suffering from the same toxic exposures as the soldiers.
INSPECTOR GENERAL TO INVESTIGATE ARMY’S RESPONSE TO EXPOSURE
OF U.S. TROOPS TO DEADLY CHEMICAL IN IRAQ
U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan
Chairman, Senate Democratic Policy Committee
There’s an important development regarding the exposure of hundreds of U.S. troops to the deadly chemical compound sodium dichromate in Iraq . The Department of Defense’s Inspector General, has agreed to investigate the Army’s response to that exposure.. I requested such an investigation, in a letter in August, along with six other Senators.
The reply we have now received is heartening. What happened to U.S. troops – mostly National Guard men and women from Indiana , Oregon and West Virginia – should never have happened and must not be allowed to happen again. They were exposed because of shoddy work by one of the largest military contractors, KBR, but the Army’s deeply flawed response is just as troubling.
The exposure of troops to this deadly chemical compound was first revealed at a June 20, 2008, hearing by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), which I chair. We found ample evidence that KBR dropped the ball multiple times with regard to the contract it held for assessing the site, cleaning it up, and getting it running again. It failed to inform the Army of the contamination until months after it knew there was a problem and after hundreds of U.S. soldiers had been exposed. It failed to clean up the site properly. KBR failed to warn even its own workers of the danger.
But the evidence suggests the Army’s response was also highly inadequate and compounded the problem.
We found that when the Army finally got around to informing the soldiers, they consistently down played the seriousness of the exposure. When it finally got around to testing soldiers to determine the amount of exposure they had experienced, too much time had passed. The test results were useless.
We found troops back home in the U.S. coping with illnesses consistent with exposure to sodium dichromate with no idea why they were sick. They did not know they had been exposed to sodium dichromate or that that exposure was life-threatening.
When I called the head of the Indiana National Guard after our 2008 hearing to tell him what we’d learned heard about the exposure of his troops in Iraq to the deadly chemical, he said it was the first he’d heard of it. No one at the Army thought to tell the Commander of the Indiana National Guard that his troops, while serving our country in Iraq , had been exposed to one of the most potent carcinogens in the world.
I asked the Army to review its response to the exposure.
The Army appointed a task force, which reported back, months later, that the Army had not only acted appropriately, but that its response had been exemplary!
We scheduled a second hearing to examine the Army’s response ourselves. That hearing was held on August 3, 2009. We heard very little that was reassuring.
Following the hearing, Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Robert Byrd (D-WVA), John Rockefeller (D-WVA), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) joined me in formally requesting an investigation by the Defense Department’s Inspector General into the Army’s handling of all this.
We now have a written response from the Inspector General’s Office, agreeing to conduct an investigation and making clear it will get underway immediately.
Someone recently asked me what I hope will come out the investigation. The answer is simple – in a word, accountability. I want to know how all this happened, why it happened, and whose being held accountable for it. I want to know what is being done to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
I also want every soldier exposed at Qarmat Ali to be accurately informed, first, that he or she was exposed, and second, that the exposure presents serious health risks. I want every exposed soldier to have access to on-going health monitoring and, if they should get sick, treatment, through the Veterans Affairs network of hospitals. I want this exposure made part of the service file of every soldier who was at Qarmat Ali during this time, so doctors can proactively look for sodium dichromate exposure related symptoms. Time is of the essence in treating illnesses that result from sodium dichromate exposure. Doctors need to know immediately, and up front, that the soldier was exposed.
I also want there to be no question about whether illnesses that result from this exposure are service connected. They can take years, even decades, to show up. If every exposed soldier’s service record includes information about what happened at Qarmat Ali, there will be no question about whether a resulting illness – no matter when it appears – is service connected, and therefore, eligible for treatment at a VA medical facility. If an illness develops, time is of the essence in treating it. I don’t want anyone to have to waste time fighting to establish that the illness is service connected.
War is risky business. Soldiers know that when they sign up. But there is no excuse for any of that risk to come from sloppy work by a U.S. military contractor. Nor is it acceptable for that risk to be increased because the Army dropped the ball in dealing with the aftermath of that contractor’s failure.
I look forward to the Inspector General’s report.