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DU testing for Canada's Gulf War Vets
2 March 2000
Veterans Affairs to pay for soldiers to be tested at independent U.S. centres
HALIFAX (CP) - The federal government will pay for soldiers to be tested for exposure to depleted uranium at independent American centres, the minister of veterans affairs said Wednesday.
George Baker said veterans who have been suffering from an array of illnesses since returning from the Persian Gulf War will be able to bill Ottawa for expenses related to the testing.
"The Department of Veterans Affairs will be paying for all of the costs associated with the testing for depleted uranium on behalf of any of our veterans who wish to get these tests done," Baker told The Canadian Press in an interview.
The minister, who is expected to announce the program Wednesday in Ottawa, said the approved funding would cover expenses related to the veterans' transportation and hotel accommodations, and would include a per diem.
Canada has stopped using depleted uranium, which is used to make shells hard enough to penetrate armour plating.
Baker's department is reviewing three independent, privately owned test centres in the United States to see if they can accommodate the request. But Baker wouldn't reveal their locations or how much it could cost the government.
"As soon as we identify whether or not they have the ability to do all of the tests, then those people who are now waiting . . . will be able to go and get tested," he said.
About 20 people had requested the test so far, but that could rise substantially once all of Canada's 4,000 Gulf War veterans become aware of the program.
Dozens of ailing veterans have been urging Ottawa in recent weeks to finance testing at independent sites.
They want to know whether their illnesses were caused by exposure to depleted uranium when they were serving in Kosovo and the Persian Gulf in the early 1990s.
Several have complained of a combination of mysterious ailments that include dizziness, blindness, loss of memory, insomnia, painful ejaculations, migraines, tingling, poor motor skills and painful skin.
Some claim the alleged exposure has been fatal.
Terry Riordon died last April after a lengthy battle with a host of bizarre illnesses. A doctor at an independent, uncertified American centre claimed to find depleted uranium in his bones.
His wife, Sue Riordon of Yarmouth, N.S., was pleased with Baker's decision and said testing could help illuminate the bewildering problem.
"If that is his announcement, and pending the laboratory and if the person tested retains confidentiality, it is an extremely positive move," Riordon said after meeting with Tory defence critic Elsie Wayne in Ottawa.
Defence Minister Art Eggleton announced last month the military is willing to test any member of the Canadian Forces who fears they might have been exposed to depleted uranium. However, veterans have said they would only go ahead with the testing if it was done at an independent facility.
In Ottawa, Wayne and Riordon demanded the Liberals launch an inquiry into why so many veterans are suffering.
"After nine years, it is time for a full and thorough public investigation," Riordon said, adding that the finding of "significant, trace levels" of depleted uranium in her husband's bones can explain his death.
Experts might disagree.
The U.S. Defence Department says it has spent $160 million on 145 different research projects into Gulf War illnesses without finding a cause.
They have looked at depleted uranium, nerve gas, nerve gas antidotes, smoke from burning oil wells, insect repellents, chemicals in tents and clothing, and combinations of these.
Also, the British Ministry of Defence stated in March 1999 that "it is judged that any radiation effects from these possible exposures are extremely unlikely to be a contributory factor to the illnesses currently being experienced by some Gulf War veterans."
Naomi Hartley, an American expert in radiological physics, stated in January that: "Fortunately, it's really impossible to breathe in enough depleted uranium to do you any serious damage.
"You would choke to death before you could inhale that much material."
In 1998, the American Legion, a major U.S. veterans' organization acknowledged that "the available scientific evidence weighs against DU as a likely risk factor" for Gulf War illnesses.
Baker said a team of medical experts will examine the new illnesses over the next 14 months and eventually include them in the department's table of disabilities. That would allow the veterans to receive compensation.
© The Canadian Press, 2000
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