Gulf War Vets Home Page

Bill for depleted - uranium screening passes Senate

by Rebecca S. Bender, 8/25/2006

California veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Forces are one signature away from having mandated access to health screenings to determine their exposure to depleted uranium.

SB 1720, the Veterans’ Health and Safety Act of 2006, passed with the unanimous approval of the state Senate on Wednesday and is headed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk. The bill, which establishes outreach programs as well as screening tests for veterans, was introduced by state Sen. Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata) in February of this year. It passed the state Assembly with a 61-13 vote on Tuesday.

“We feel it’s going to be a great benefit to the many veterans who have been unknowingly exposed,” local Veterans for Peace member Steve Sottong said Thursday. “We’re extremely pleased and very hopeful that the governor will sign it.”

“We’re very excited, because people up here in the far north started this bill,” VFP member Fred Hummel added. “And it’s great to know that we have representatives up here who will go to bat for us.”

Chesbro worked closely with the VFP Humboldt Bay Chapter 56 in developing the bill, Hummel observed.

The effort has gained national attention and support from other veterans’ groups, including the American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America.

Recognizing the Armed Forces’ extensive use of depleted uranium in both munitions and armor since the first Gulf War and the health risks associated with it — including lung and kidney damage, cancer and genetic mutations — the bill extends screenings to all service members who were in an area where depleted uranium was known to be used or that was designated as a combat zone by the U.S. president after 1990.

The purpose, it states, “is to safeguard the health of California’s veterans by assisting them in obtaining federal treatment services, including best practice health screening tests capable of detecting low levels of depleted uranium.”

An outreach effort will be implemented through the California Department of Veterans Affairs and will include information on veterans’ possible exposure to depleted uranium, the associated health risks and available federal screening services.

“These people have served their country, they’ve served well, and they deserve better than to be left without better health notification to what they’ve been exposed to,” Sottong said.

If the bill becomes law, Hummel said, VFP’s next move will be to work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that the mandated outreach efforts are effective and meaningful.

The original text of the bill had a provision for an annual report to legislative committees on the efficacy of the military’s pre- and post-deployment training on depleted uranium exposure, but that clause was removed from the final version.

Sottong observed that removing the clause and other minor revisions that minimized the cost associated with the bill made it likely that Schwarzenegger would sign it.

“It seems to be a bill that pretty much everybody can get behind,” Sottong noted. “We hope California can become a model for other states on this.”