(Washington, D.C.) - U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, yesterday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates underscoring the importance of knowing the extent of exposure to radiation to servicemembers aiding the Japanese people in the aftermath of last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, and the subsequent damage to coastal nuclear reactors. Chairman Murray’s concern is based on the military’s track record of failing to monitor exposures, which has impeded previous generations of veterans from obtaining benefits.
“The failure of DoD to properly identify and maintain records on exposure impaired the ability of radiation-exposed servicemembers from World War II and various test sites to obtain VA benefits,” Chairman Murray wrote in the letter. “Therefore, I cannot underscore the importance of monitoring, measuring, and accurately recording any such incidents.”
The full text of Senator Murray’s letter follows:
March 15, 2011
The Honorable Robert Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Gates:
Our servicemembers are serving with distinction providing critical disaster response for Japan in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that occurred last week.
American Navy officials said early Monday that 17 military personnel who had been aboard three helicopters assisting in the earthquake relief effort have been exposed to low levels of contamination when they flew through a plume of radioactive contaminants from a damaged nuclear power plant. Given the serious health consequences of radiation and other environmental toxins, it is critical that the Department of Defense monitor, measure, and accurately record such exposures in servicemembers’ personnel and health records.
During my time on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I have worked to address the needs of veterans who were exposed to environmental toxins during their military service. The Committee has found that the failure of DoD to properly identify and maintain records on exposure impaired the ability of radiation-exposed servicemembers from World War II and various test sites to obtain VA benefits. Therefore, I cannot underscore the importance of monitoring, measuring, and accurately recording any such incidents.
I urge DoD to create a database of U.S. servicemembers supporting the relief effort in Japan to track data related to exposure to radiation and other environmental toxins. This information will aid DoD and ultimately VA as care and benefits are provided to those who suffer ill-effects from any such exposures.
Providing care for our servicemembers and veterans is a top priority. Careful surveillance of this issue now will allow VA to provide the best possible care and benefits to those affected later. I thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your response.
Chairman, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee
-March 16, 2011-