IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Release

May 6, 2003

No. 03-10

Contact:
Mokie Porter

(301) 585-4000 Ext.146


 
VVA TAKES DoD TO TASK FOR DEPLOYMENT HEALTH ASSESSMENT PROCESS

 


(Washington, D.C.) – The Department of Defense (DoD), responding to a chorus of criticism, has announced that it is enhancing the post-deployment health assessment process for all current and future deployments.  These enhancements were made, according to a memorandum from Under Secretary of Defense David S. C. Chu that was received by Vietnam Veterans of America on April 22, “in response to national interest in the health of deployed personnel.”  The improvements include, according to DoD, “a more comprehensive health assessment and a blood sample taken within 30 days of leaving the theater.” 

While VVA applauds this effort, it is, we believe, too little if hopefully not too late. 

“It is unconscionable that those entrusted with the national defense – and with the health of our troops – would ignore the law and neglect to take all prescribed steps to ensure that we have baseline data in the event our troops have been exposed to some chemical or biological agent that might adversely affect their health,” said Thomas H. Corey, VVA National President.  

Section 765 of Public Law 105-85 states that the “Secretary of Defense shall establish a system to assess the medical condition of members of the armed forces . . . who are deployed outside the United States or its territories or possessions as part of a contingency operation . . . or combat operation.  The system . . . shall include the use of predeployment medical examinations and postdeployment medical examinations (including an assessment of mental health and the drawing of blood samples) to accurately record the medical condition of members before their deployment and any changes in their medical condition during the course of their deployment.” 

Corey cites a litany of violations of the law by DoD.  Medical screening designed to provide epidemiologists and doctors with a baseline snapshot of every soldier’s health has not been implemented.  DoD did not conduct hands-on physicals to determine the health status of the force before deployment.  DoD has not acted to ensure that blood samples be drawn from the entire force prior to deployment, relying instead on the serum collected for mandatory HIV testing, which may be one to three years old.  Nor is the department conducting psychological evaluations after deployment, relying instead on a questionnaire. 

“Many of the enhancements announced by DoD don’t meet the requirements of the law,” Corey said.  “This will eventually result in an added burden on the VA, which is charged with caring for those who have borne the battle.”  While American casualties have fortunately been light, troops have witnessed scenes of slaughter that will affect them for years to come. 

What is deeply troubling to VVA is that while DoD personnel from Fort Detrick have in fact done an environmental assessment of the battlefield in Iraq, the data collected is likely to be classified and hence unavailable to both the VA and to individual veterans.   

“This is wrong,” said Corey.  “What is even more serious, though, is that DoD is not mandating that a full psycho-social workup of every troop be done either pre- or post-deployment.  This, too, is wrong.  As a survey instrument, the questionnaire given to returning troops is totally inadequate.” 

Without baseline data, without either comprehensive pre- or post-deployment physicals, VA physicians will find it very difficult to tell who may have been exposed to what chemical or biological agent or to traumatic, psyche-damaging events.  The spectre of Gulf War II Syndrome lurks in the shadows. 

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Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is the nation's only congressionally chartered veterans service organization dedicated to the needs of Vietnam-era veterans and their families.  VVA's founding principle is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.”

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