by TomPaine.com –
(April 29, 2003) – Public Law 105-85 requires the Pentagon to collect health data on troops before and after deployment to a war zone. But troops headed to Iraq were not examined as the law specifically requires — through physical exams and blood tests — as The Kansas City Star first reported in March.
Pentagon officials admit they haven’t followed the law. They say a short questionnaire suffices in place of a medical exam. They say there’s no sense testing a generally healthy population of soldiers. They say there wasn’t time for exams in the rush to war, and troops returning home won’t sit still long enough for an exam.
These excuses haven’t impressed Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.). He convened a hearing on March 25.
“From my standpoint, you’re not meeting the letter of the law, clearly, and I don’t think you’re meeting the spirit of the law,” Shays told a Pentagon representative who testified.
Doctors who advised the military on protecting soldiers’ health also registered concern at the hearing. The law is an “important mandate,” said Dr. Manning Feinleib, but “implementation has been fragmented.” Dr. John Moxley, III, said Pentagon practices did not incorporate recommendations made by his and other advisory panels.
Those suggestions shaped the law, passed in 1997 after the sad experience of Gulf War veterans. Tens of thousands of them waited years before getting the government-provided health care they earned as soldiers. Why? A lack of basic health data delayed a Pentagon decision that their maladies — now known collectively as “Gulf War Syndrome” — were related to their service.
“Laws designed to protect soldiers on the battlefield are being ignored,” testified Steven Robinson, a former Army Ranger who now runs the National Gulf War Resource Center. “Service members are being set up to face another round of delay, denial and obfuscation regarding possible service-connected medical conditions or disabilities.”
Several members of Congress have asked the General Accounting Office to investigate. While we await its report, due this summer, perhaps Mr. Rumsfeld would tell us: Can the Pentagon ignore ANY law it thinks is mistaken?
For more information, contact the National Gulf War Resource Center (www.NGWRC.org).