Category Archives: Veterans Issues

For the second year in a row, U.S. military lost more troops to suicide than to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan

More troops lost to suicide | Jan 23, 2011

By John Donnelly

For the second year in a row, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The reasons are complicated and the accounting uncertain — for instance, should returning soldiers who take their own lives after being mustered out be included?

But the suicide rate is a further indication of the stress that military personnel live under after nearly a decade of war.

Figures released by the armed services last week showed an alarming increase in suicides in 2010, but those figures leave out some categories.

Overall, the services reported 434 suicides by personnel on active duty, significantly more than the 381 suicides by active-duty personnel reported in 2009. The 2010 total is below the 462 deaths in combat, excluding accidents and illness. In 2009, active-duty suicides exceeded deaths in battle.

Last week’s figures, though, understate the problem of military suicides because the services do not report the statistics uniformly. Several do so only reluctantly.

Figures reported by each of the services last week, for instance, include suicides by members of the Guard and Reserve who were on active duty at the time. The Army and the Navy also add up statistics for certain reservists who kill themselves when they are not on active duty.

But the Air Force and Marine Corps do not include any non-mobilized reservists in their posted numbers. What’s more, none of the services count suicides that occur among a class of reservists known as the Individual Ready Reserve, the more than 123,000 people who are not assigned to particular units.

Suicides by veterans who have left the service entirely after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan also are not counted by the Defense Department. The Department of Veterans Affairs keeps track of such suicides only if the person was enrolled in the VA health care system — which three-quarters of veterans are not.

But even if such veterans and members of the Individual Ready Reserve are excluded from the suicide statistics, just taking into account the deaths of reservists who were not included in last week’s figures pushes the number of suicides last year to at least 468.

That total includes some Air Force and Marine Corps reservists who took their own lives while not on active duty, and it exceeds the 462 military personnel killed in battle.

The problem of reservists’ suicides, in particular, has been a major concern to some lawmakers. A Pentagon study this year confirmed that reservists lack the support structure that active-duty troops have.

Some types of reservists are more cut off than others. Rep. Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, says that members of the Individual Ready Reserve and other categories of citizen-soldiers do not receive a thorough screening for mental health issues when they return from deployments.

One of those soldiers, a constituent of Holt’s named Coleman S. Bean, was an Army sergeant and Iraq War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but could not find treatment. He took his own life in 2008.

Moved by Bean’s story, Holt wrote a bill requiring phone contacts with these reservists every 90 days after they come home from war. The House adopted Holt’s provision as part of its defense authorization bills for both fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011. But conferees writing the final version of the bills took it out both years.

Holt said in December that Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain was responsible for that decision in the most recent bill. A spokeswoman for McCain, Brooke Buchanan, would not state his position on the provision. Instead, she said House members had removed it.

A House Armed Services Committee spokeswoman, Jennifer Kohl, said the House reluctantly pulled the provision from the bill because of the opposition of senators, whom she did not name.

Holt said a fuller reckoning of the number of suicides among military personnel and veterans is needed not so much to tell lawmakers and the public that there is a problem — that, he says, they know. Rather, it is needed to more accurately gauge the extent to which programs to help troubled troops are having an effect.

“In order to know whether the steps we’ve taken work,” Holt said, “we’re going to have to have more detailed knowledge of who’s out there.”

Mystery surrounding murder of former Bush aide John Wheeler deepens with clues of his last moves

In this 1994 photo, Wheeler touches the name of a friend engraved in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Tasnadi/AP

NY Daily News | Jan 4, 2011

BY Helen Kennedy

The mystery of the murdered former Pentagon official found in a Delaware landfill on New Year’s Eve deepened on Tuesday as cops zeroed in on his final movements – but failed to locate a crime scene.

John Parsons Wheeler, 66, best known for helping to get the Vietnam Veterans Memorial built in Washington, was last seen publicly the day before his body tumbled into a Wilmington landfill on Friday.

A passerby spotted Wheeler, who lived six miles away in New Castle, Del., at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in downtown Wilmington.

Sometime after that, his body was put into a commercial Dumpster in Newark, Del. – about 12 miles from his home and 15 miles from Wilmington. It fell into the landfill from a truck that picked up trash in Newark on Friday morning.

Police won’t say how he died.

* In Harlem, cops – with Wheeler’s distraught wife, Katherine Klyce, in tow – searched their W. 124th St. condo Monday night but left empty-handed, according to staff at the luxury building. Klyce, who runs a Cambodian textile business from the ninth-floor apartment, was traveling when her husband went missing.

This is the second time Klyce has been hit by a high-profile murder mystery. Her sister, Emily Klyce Fisher, a wealthy society woman in Memphis, was stabbed 50 times in her home in 1995. The killing was unsolved until 2003, when a TV show led to a friend of Fisher’s druggie son.

The family issued a statement asking for privacy.

* At Klyce and Wheeler’s New Castle home, reporters saw kitchen floorboards pried up while cops were searching. It wasn’t clear who pried them up – or why.

Cops said the house was not the murder scene. “We don’t have a crime scene,” said Newark Police Lt. Mark Farrall.

* Neighbor Ron Roark told The (Wilmington) News Journal that for four days over Christmas, he heard a TV blaring night and day inside Wheeler’s house, even though no one seemed to be home.

“It was so loud, we could hear it through the walls, and we found that strange,” Roark told the newspaper.

* Wheeler had an ongoing lawsuit against another neighbor, Frank Marini, who is building a home that would block Wheeler’s view.

On Tuesday, Dec. 28, a smoke bomb was thrown into the Marinis’ unfinished house. Cops say they don’t know if it is connected to Wheeler’s murder.

Wheeler, a defense contractor, was special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force from 2005 to 2008.

Former Bush aide found murdered, body dumped in landfill

John Wheeler III’s body was found at a landfill in Wilmington. Wheeler recommended that the United States not use biological weapons. Delaware Photo: AP

Former Reagan and Bush aide found murdered in rubbish dump

A veteran of Republican presidential administrations, including those of Ronald Reagan and George W Bush, has been found dead in a dump in Delaware.

Telegraph | Jan 4, 2011

The body of John Wheeler III, who also helped lead efforts to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, was discovered on New Year’s Eve as a rubbish truck emptied its contents at a landfill. His death has been ruled a homicide.

Wheeler, 66, retired from the military in 1971 and lived in Delaware state. He had worked in the Reagan Defence Department and also served as a special assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force in the George W Bush administration.

The former Army officer reportedly was last seen Dec. 28, on the train from Washington to the Delaware capital, Wilmington.

Police have determined that all the stops made Friday by the garbage truck before it arrived at the landfill involved large commercial disposal bins, several miles from Wheeler’s home.

“He was just not the sort of person who would wind up in a landfill,” said Bayard Marin, a lawyer representing Wheeler in a property dispute, said.

Wheeler, the son of a decorated Army officer, was a graduate of the US Military Academy and a veteran of the Vietnam War. He was the first chairman of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and led the multimillion-dollar fund-raising effort to create the memorial on the National Mall.

Fund founder and President Jan Scruggs said Wheeler dedicated himself to ensuring that service members are given the respect they deserve.

“I know how passionate he was about honouring all who serve their nation, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Mr Scruggs said.

In addition to chairing the memorial fund, Wheeler served as a special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force. He also was the first chief executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Wheeler’s military career included serving in the office of the secretary of defence and writing a manual on the effectiveness of biological and chemical weapons, which recommended that the United States not use biological weapons.

US National Guard suicide rate nearly doubles

US National Guard soldiers returning home to face further difficulties.

Press TV | Nov 27, 2010

Statistics have revealed that the suicide rate among non-active members of the US National Guard has almost doubled this year.

Nearly twice as many American soldiers, who are not on active duty, have committed suicide in 2010 as the number that took their own lives last year, while the suicide rate among active duty soldiers has not increased, USA TODAY reports.

This growth in suicide rates has been linked to drug abuse, brain injuries incurred during active service, depression, and the country’s current bleak economic situation (home foreclosures, debt and unemployment), said Chris Philbrick, the deputy commander of an Army task force working to reduce suicides.

As of October, 86 non-active soldiers have taken their own lives this year, which is nearly double the entire 2009 number of suicides, which was 48.

There were 252 confirmed or suspected suicides among active and non-active Army members through October of this year. There were 242 such deaths in all of 2009, the report says.

These statistics could reinforce the fact that active-duty soldiers have greater access to programs and mental health resources, Philbrick says.

Veterans’ group: CIA blocking lawsuit over drug and bioweapon experiments on troops

Raw Story | Aug 27, 2010

Veterans group: CIA blocking lawsuit over experiments on troops

By Daniel Tencer

An advocacy group working on behalf of Vietnam veterans has asked a federal judge in California to sanction the CIA, saying the spy agency has been blocking efforts to uncover its role in alleged experiments on US soldiers from the 1950s to 1970s.

The Vietnam Veterans of America filed a lawsuit on behalf of six Vietnam War veterans in January, 2009, claiming that the CIA had used an estimated 7,800 US service members as “guinea pigs” in experiments involving “at least 250, but as many as 400 chemical and biological agents,” according to Courthouse News.

Among the chemicals the lawsuit alleges were used on the soldiers were LSD, sarin and phosgene nerve gases, cyanide, PCP and even THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

The lawsuit described it as a “vast program of human experimentation” that was “shrouded in secrecy” and carried out without the informed consent of the experiment subjects.

“In 1970, [the CIA] provided Congress with an alphabetical list showing that they had tested 145 drugs during Projects Bluebird, Artichoke, MKULTRA and MKDELTA,” the lawsuit stated, as quoted at Courthouse News.

As the defendant in the suit, the CIA is obliged, by judge’s orders, to hand over data relevant to the lawsuit. But the VVA has asked a judge to sanction the CIA, saying the agency has ignored or blocked its requests for information, and has released only a small portion of the relevant documents.

The VVA’s first attempts to obtain CIA data on the experiments “have been pending for over a year, during which time [the CIA] have attempted to sidestep their discovery obligations at every turn, withholding (or even refusing to search for) large volumes of relevant, responsive documents [and] refusing to provide … witnesses to testify about their document searches and certain substantive topics,” the motion (PDF), filed in a California federal court this week, states.

The VVA says the CIA had refused to use “a routine protective order” that would restrict any sensitive CIA data to within the courtroom, and instead blacked out large parts of relevant documents. The plaintiffs say the CIA refused to provide the names of the test subjects involved, allowing only the names of the six defendants who filed the lawsuit.

“Even more unbelievably, it appears that defendants have yet to search even the most obvious location for documents — Edgewood Arsenal itself,” the motion states, referring to the location northeast of Baltimore where the experiments are said to have been carried out.

The motion states the CIA “served no responses or objections whatsoever” to the VVA’s second and third requests for information.

The motion asks that the judge, in addition to sanctioning the CIA, also order the CIA to pay the VVA’s costs associated with its attempts to obtain CIA information.

Judge James Larson of the US District Court in northern California will begin hearing arguments in the case on Sept. 29.

The VVA describes itself as “the only national Vietnam veterans organization congressionally chartered and exclusively dedicated to Vietnam-era veterans and their families.”

A 2003 report (PDF) from the Department of Veterans Affairs states that “between 1950 and 1975, about 6,720 soldiers took part in experiments involving exposures to 254 different chemicals, conducted at US Army Laboratories at Edgewood Arsenal, MD. Congressional hearings into these experiments in 1974 and 1975 resulted in disclosures, notification of subjects as to the nature of their chemical exposures, and ultimately to compensation for a few families of subjects who had died during the experiments.”

PTSD diagnosis could appear on driver’s licenses

Sen. Ron Ramsey (D-Decatur), the bill’s sponsor, said he sees the potential benefits and no downside. “It is totally voluntary,” he said.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | May 9, 2010

By Nancy Badertscher

Some Georgians could soon be carrying a unique driver’s license – one that says they have post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lawmakers recently passed legislation that would allow current and former military to request the PTSD designation on their driver’s licenses.

The legislation, which has to be signed by the governor to become law, would likely make Georgia the first state with a driver’s license that denotes a specific health problem, other than poor eyesight.

Some veterans and law enforcement officials say they can’t image that many servicemen and servicewomen will want their PTSD diagnosis put on display when they present their driver’s licenses to cash a check, buy alcohol, board an airplane or face a traffic cop.

“Why would I want to put out there on my license – hey, I’m a nut job,” said Marvin Myers, president of the Georgia Vietnam Veterans Alliance Inc.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, like military combat, natural disaster or a physical or sexual assault.

Sen. Ron Ramsey (D-Decatur), the bill’s sponsor, said he sees the potential benefits and no downside.

“It is totally voluntary,” he said.

Ramsey said he had just finished speaking to a veteran’s group when he was approached by a former serviceman, who has PTSD and was worried that he might have a bad encounter with law enforcement.

“He said, ‘God forbid anybody put handcuffs on me. I’d go berserk’,” the senator said.

The veteran suggested a PTSD notation on driver’s licenses could help, Ramsey said.

“This is how it is supposed to work — an ordinary citizen came up and said, ‘This is what I need’,” he said.

Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle), an Army veteran who co-sponsored the bill,  said a safer encounter could be the result.

“The police officer would know that a sudden move [by the motorist] wasn’t necessarily an offensive move,” Douglas said.

Ramsey’s bill sailed through the General Assembly, despite attempts by some lawmakers to expand it to include other medical conditions. Feedback, was “nothing but positive,” Ramsey said.

Lea R. Flowers, an assistant professor in Georgia State University’s Department of Counseling & Psychological Services, said Ramsey’s bill has some positives in that it may raise awareness of PTSD and calls for strictly voluntary participation.

“But it could be a slippery slope,” she said. “Will we offer that for bipolar? Schizophrenia?”

The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police didn’t take a stand on Ramsey’s bill as it moved through the Legislature, said Frank Rotondo, the organization’s executive director.

“It probably benefits for law enforcement to know that a person believes that, under stress, they can melt down,” he said.

The bill, which could become law July 1, would require a sworn statement from an MD or psychologist, verifying the service member’s diagnosis of PTSD. It also requires a waiver of liability for the release of the driver’s medical information.

The state Department of Drivers Services has yet to decide how the PTSD diagnosis would be displayed on the driver’s license, spokeswoman Susan Sports said.

The department currently offers an identification card for the disabled that has a wheelchair symbol and can include the cardholder’s medical information, Sports said.

“This ID is primarily used by the individuals to secure priority seating on buses, et cetera,” she said. “The ID is not for driving.”

US Army suicides hit grim record for 2009

AFP | Jan 16, 2010

WASHINGTON — Suicides in the US Army rose to a new record in 2009, with 160 soldiers taking their lives, the military said Friday, calling it a “painful year.”

Army leaders had warned that the suicide rate was on track to surpass last year’s toll of 140, but said the causes of the spike remain unclear.

“There’s no question that 2009 was a painful year for the army when it came to suicides,” said Colonel Christopher Philbrick, deputy director of an army suicide prevention task force.

Ten suspected cases of suicide in December for active-duty soldiers brought the total number for last year to 160, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The army has come under severe strain from years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, with officers citing repeated deployments and the stress of combat as fuelling an increase in depression and marital problems.

But the grim toll of suicides was not necessarily triggered by repeated combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the military’s own research.

The causes appeared to vary from base to base and about one-third of the soldiers who committed suicide had not yet deployed to combat missions in Afghanistan or Iraq, officials say.

Top military leaders, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, have appealed to officers to ensure soldiers who need psychological help do not face ridicule or risk to their careers.

The army has adopted a range of initiatives to try to contain the problem, hiring hundreds of mental health specialists and launching an elaborate scientific research project to try to understand the trend.

Officials have also expressed concern about suicides among veterans and among military spouses and family members.

Admiral Mullen’s wife, Deborah Mullen, told a conference this week that more needed to be done to monitor suicides of spouses and members of military families, something the Pentagon does not track precisely.

Often the spouses of service members are reluctant to seek help as they fear it could damage their loved one’s career prospects, she said.

US Army Suicides Continue at Record Pace

VOA | Nov 17, 2009

By Al Pessin

The U.S. Army reported Tuesday that the number of suicides among soldiers this year has already equaled the number for all of last year, and so will rise for the fifth consecutive year, in spite of a major effort to combat the trend. The Army’s number two officer says he is significantly short of the type of professionals who could help reverse the trend.

The vice chief of the Army, General Peter Chiarelli was frank about the latest statistics.

“This is horrible, and I do not want to downplay the significance of these numbers in any way,” he said.

The general reported there have been 140 suicides among active duty soldiers this year, and another 71 among reservists and members of the National Guard, some of whom had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

“We talk about these incidents of suicide using figures and percentages,” he said. “However the grim reality is each case represents an individual, a person, with family and friends and a future ahead of him or her. Every single loss is devastating.”

But while the overall numbers are up, General Chiarelli says the rate has eased in recent months. Nearly 30 percent of Army suicides this year happened in January and February, with a steady decline since then except for a couple of months. But the general says in spite of extensive efforts, officials and doctors can not say why the rate is up in some months or down in others, or why it has risen steadily for the last five years.

“Everywhere I try to cut this and look at and try to find the causal effect I get thwarted, and that’s why we think we’ve got to look, in its totality, at a whole bunch of different issues. And it’s going to take time,” he said.

The general says even seemingly obvious causes are not confirmed by the data. For example, about a third of the suicides are among soldiers who have never deployed to the war zones. But he says the Army has begun to identify some factors that could contribute to the high suicide rates, including post-traumatic stress, mild brain injuries that may not be diagnosed, substance abuse and the deployment of small numbers of soldiers far from bases that offer mental health services.

Indeed, the general says he could use at least 750 more mental health workers in the Army, in addition to the 900 who have been added to the force in the last two years. He says he also needs up to 300 more substance abuse counselors.

“We are an army that is based on authorizations that were prior to eight years of war,” said General Chiarelli. “And I have been pounding the system to say, ‘we have got to sit down and determine what we need after eight years of war.”

The U.S. Army has been focused on mental health issues for several years, but concern was heightened earlier this month when a soldier killed 12 colleagues and one civilian in a shooting rampage on a base in Texas. The alleged gunman is an officer, and a psychiatrist who specializes in stress, and was scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan. He is also a Muslim, who is now believed to have militant leanings.

The Army is funding a huge mental health study which will keep track of as many as half a million soldiers during the next five years. It is also implementing a variety of innovative programs designed to make it easier for soldiers to report their own problems, and to help comrades who show signs of being suicidal.

“This is a matter of life and death, and it is absolutely unacceptable to have individuals suffering in silence because they’re afraid their peers or superiors will make fun of them, or worst [that] it will adversely affect their careers,” said the general.

General Chiarelli says soldiers need to realize that mental problems are just like bullet wounds and broken legs, and must be treated by trained professionals. He calls dealing with the Army’s mental health and suicide problems the toughest challenge he has faced in his 37 years of service.

Fort Hood’s military victims blocked from getting damages

Tribune-Review | Nov 15, 2009

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Legal experts say families of active-duty military members who were killed during the recent Fort Hood shootings or the military members themselves who were wounded probably will be unable to win court judgments for damages even if they can prove the Army was negligent in not acting to remove the alleged shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

Andrew Adair, a Washington attorney, and others say a 1950 Supreme Court ruling would stand in the way of such damage claims.

The restriction would not apply to the lone civilian, Mike Cahill, 62, who was killed in last week’s attack. Nor would it apply to injured civilians, including police officer Kimberly Munley, who was involved in a shootout with Hasan.

In the 1950 ruling, known as the Feres Doctrine after one of the plaintiffs that brought the case, the high court said active-duty members of the military cannot sue for damages if the death or injury is “incident to military service.”

“Even if the higher-ups in the military have knowledge that someone is a loose cannon and take no action, there is no recourse. That’s where the law is,” Adair said

Hasan was formally charged Thursday with 13 counts of premeditated murder in the attack, which left 29 people wounded. Congressional investigators have begun to question whether Army officials failed to respond to indications that Hasan might be a danger to others. President Obama on Saturday urged Congress to hold off on an investigation of the Fort Hood rampage until federal law enforcement and military authorities have completed their probes into the shootings.

Obama made his comments during an eight-day Asia trip and pleaded for lawmakers to “resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into the political theater.” He said those who died on the nation’s largest Army post deserve justice, not political stagecraft.

“The stakes are far too high,” Obama said in a video and Internet address released by the White House while the president was flying from Tokyo to Singapore, where Pacific Rim countries were meeting.

Obama has ordered a review of how officials handled warning signs that might have pointed to the killing spree. Among the warning signs were e-mail contacts with radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was linked in the 9/11 Commission’s report to at least two of the 2001 hijackers.

Dean Swartz, another Washington attorney and former military lawyer, who has experience on both sides of military torts cases, said that even with evidence that Hasan’s superiors were aware of a potential for violence, survivors of the shooting would face a virtually insurmountable hurdle in overcoming the Feres Doctrine.

Swartz said that as a government attorney, he was obligated to oppose such claims, and “it made me sick to do it.”

Justice Department lawyers are defending the Feres Doctrine in several pending lawsuits, arguing that the doctrine is necessary to maintain military discipline and that active-duty members of the military are entitled to death benefits.

Pentagon spokesman Wayne V. Hall confirmed those killed at Fort Hood will be entitled to the benefits provided to all members of the military, including a $100,000 death benefit. Exact individual amounts, including life insurance benefits, will depend on determinations yet to be made by the military and what level of benefits were chosen by the killed or wounded soldiers, Hall said.

With respect to the Fort Hood shootings, Hall said he could not comment since there has been no attempt at litigation.

Barbara Cragnotti, spokeswoman for an advocacy group that has been seeking to have the Feres Doctrine overturned by Congress, said it appeared to her that the ban on legal claims would apply to all of those shot who were on active duty.

“I believe that Feres will bar all suits on the Fort Hood shooting,” she said, referring to active duty members of the military.

Cragnotti’s group, called Veterans Equal Rights Advocacy, has been backing a bill recently approved by the House Judiciary Committee that would lift the ban on lawsuits, but only in cases involving medical malpractice, such as botched surgery in a military hospital.

That bill, which is awaiting House floor action, would not apply to the Fort Hood incident because it involves only medical malpractice cases.

Cragnotti’s group contends the limits imposed by the Feres ruling are unfair and deprive members of the military rights that are provided to all other citizens.

Pentagon to investigate troops exposure to hexavalent chromium in Iraq

Among the questions the senators want answered: Why, in an area thick with “distinctive orange powder,” the Army and KBR failed to restrict access or provide protective gear to soldiers patrolling.

The Oregonian | Sep 29, 2009

By Julie Sullivan

The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating whether the Army mishandled troops exposed to a cancer-causing chemical in Iraq in 2003.

The review comes after seven Senate Democrats charged that the Army and war contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root may have exposed hundreds of soldiers to dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium while they guarded civilian workers at a water treatment plant. Among the troops exposed are at least 292 Oregon Army National Guard soldiers, including 16 who say they were sickened by the contact.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said in a statement Tuesday that the oversight hearings he led as recently as last month revealed “repeated and almost unbelievable failures by both the contractor, KBR, and the Army to take the needed steps to protect and even to inform soldiers and workers.”

“We want to know how it happened, why it happened, and who is being held accountable,” Dorgan said. “An IG investigation is overdue.”

The Army has defended its handling of the case and of KBR, which earned millions in bonuses for restoring Iraqi oil production. KBR has denied harming troops.

Almost immediately upon their arrival at the Qarmat Ali water treatment plant, National Guard soldiers from Oregon, Indiana, West Virginia and South Carolina serving between April and September 2003 reported breathing problems, holes in their nasal septums (called “chrome nose” ) and skin sores. At least two soldiers who served, including Sgt. Nicholas Thomas from Oregon and an Indiana commander, later developed cancers and died.

But it wasn’t until June 2008 that former KBR employees testifying at an oversight hearing said their managers had downplayed the risk of the chemical powder that Saddam Hussein supporters had spread across the plant before fleeing.

Hexavalent chromium is a corrosion fighter so toxic that an amount the size of a grain of salt in a cubic yard greatly increases the risk of leukemia and lung, stomach, brain, renal, bladder and bone cancers.

Testimony about the substance led senators to charge that the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers oversight and testing by the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine — and a 2008 review of those actions — were “deeply flawed.”

“Oregon National Guard members have suffered serious health problems as a result of the deliberate contamination of the facility by the Iraqi army,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement Tuesday. “This investigation will determine whether the U.S. Army and KBR took appropriate precautions.”

Among the questions the senators want answered:

Why the Army failed to order and why KBR failed to perform remediation at the plant before troops ever arrived in March 2003.

Why the Army failed to clear the chemical hazards at the plant before allowing KBR to enter.

Why the affected soldiers weren’t tested until five months after their exposure.

Why, in an area thick with “distinctive orange powder,” the Army and KBR failed to restrict access or provide protective gear to soldiers patrolling.

Why the health promotion center concluded there was “not a significant inhalation exposure” when a leading expert on hexavalent chromium estimated the air concentration was 80 to 200 times the Occupational Safety and Health Administration limit.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., praised the inspector general’s willingness to review the matter, along with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who promised a “complete and comprehensive response” in a Sept. 17 letter.

Sixteen Oregon National Guard soldiers who became ill after serving at the plant are suing KBR, saying the company misrepresented the danger. Their attorney, David Sugerman, said he appreciated Wyden and Merkley’s actions, along with U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. State Sen. Chip Shields, D-Portland, also sponsored legislation creating a fund for those Oregonians who develop cancer as a result of their exposure.

Their support, Sugerman said, “demonstrates that they take seriously the sacrifices of our Oregon Guard soldiers and their families.”