Cancer: the Price of Peace?

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Once home, many of our soldiers who served in Iraq have to battle chronic rashes, tumors and even cancer.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is demanding to know why. Why did the giant contractor KBR knowingly expose our forces to carcinogenic toxins at its power plants in Iraq?

KBR, the largest non-union construction company in the United States, has struck gold in its massive contracts with the U.S. government, raking in $17 billion in Iraq-related work since 2003.

The former Halliburton subsidiary has relied on both military and non-military personnel to protect its workers, including 16 Indiana Guardsmen who are now suing the defense contractor, accusing the company of being aware it was exposing them to cancer-causing chemicals. The Guardsmen, who suffered a myriad of health problems since coming home (one died from lung cancer), claim KBR managers “downplayed and disregarded” the risk from contamination at their site. KBR denies any wrongdoing.

“The situation…may just be the tip of the iceberg,” observes IAVA Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff. His nonpartisan agency wants Congress to take action and request the contractor to testify about its knowledge of toxic exposure.

Meantime, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh has vowed to reintroduce legislation to create a medical registry for military personnel exposed to toxins. It would track service members exposed during wartime service and guarantee them access to priority care at VA hospitals. Bayh says the registry is modeled after our government’s response to Agent Orange during the Vietnam conflict. Veterans suffering can cut through the red tape and get the treatment they need.

IAVA has been lobbying for such a registry. “This latest example of toxic exposure underlines the urgency,” says Rieckhoff, who founded this first organization of Iraq and Afghanistan vets in 2004 and now boasts more than 125,000 veteran and civilian supporters.

Image: Army.mil

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