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Home» News Coverage » Local Newspapers » Oregon Live » Sen. Ron Wyden says Veterans exposed to hexavalent chromium deserve lifelong health care and Purple Hearts

Sen. Ron Wyden says Veterans exposed to hexavalent chromium deserve lifelong health care and Purple Hearts

By Julie Sullivan, The Oregonian
February 18, 2010, 8:45PM

wyden 9jpg 31a064892f78836b large Sen. Ron Wyden says Veterans exposed to hexavalent chromium deserve lifelong health care and Purple Hearts

Ross William Hamilton, The Oregonian | U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden watches as Larry Roberta, an Oregon veteran who suffers breathing and stomach problems from exposure to hexavalent chromium, coughs during a news conference in Portland. "There was no way to get away from it,'' Roberta said. "Our job was to watch KBR's back and make sure they were OK."

Veterans exposed to cancer-causing hexavalent chromium in Iraq — including nearly 300 Oregon soldiers — should be treated as if they’d hit a roadside bomb and receive lifelong medical care and Purple Hearts, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said Thursday.

Ten Oregon Army National Guard veterans who were exposed to the chemical while protecting war contractor KBR’s employees stood with the Oregon Democrat a news conference to acknowledge their “invisible wounds” and to hold the contractor accountable. When one veteran began to cough violently and struggled for breath at the podium, Wyden’s alarm turned to outrage.

“Precautions should have been taken and they were not, that is inexcusable,” Wyden said. “That soldiers have become critically ill and suffer respiratory diseases and skin rashes that, again, is inexcusable.”

The soldiers served at Qarmat Ali, a water treatment plant where fleeing loyalists of Saddam Hussein spilled a corrosion fighter containing hexavalent chromium, which is so toxic that an amount the size of a grain of salt greatly increases the risk of lung, stomach and brain cancer. The Oregonian exposed the widespread health problems in a series of stories last year, which alerted the soldiers to danger.

The men are among 21 soldiers in Oregon, and dozens in other states suing KBR in federal court. Soldiers say they were never told of any danger and were told that their bloody noses and other symptoms were allergies to desert sand. KBR maintains it was not responsible for the chemical at the water treatment plant, that it posted signs warning that the anti-corrosive was toxic and points fingers at Army engineers.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee passed a bill to extend health care to the Qarmat Ali veterans, but only until 2012. Wyden wants to amend and extend that coverage for life before a final vote. He said he is also taking up the fight headed by retiring Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. and Evan Bayh, D-Ind. Dorgan led 19 hearings into waste, fraud and abuse by war contractors. At one hearing, former KBR employees at Qarmat Ali, themselves suffering lung and skin problems, told senators that soldiers were exposed. Bayh was the first to raise alarm about Oregon soldiers when he noted that Indiana troops followed Oregon troops at Qarmat Ali in 2003.

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Posted by Doyle Raizner llp on Feb 19 2010. Filed under Oregon Live, Proposed Legislation, Qarmat Ali News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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