What is Co-Managed Care for Veterans?

Depleted Uranium

Uranium is a heavy metal that occurs naturally in nature. It is found all over the world in small quantities in soil, rocks, and water sources (both fresh and salt). Naturally radioactive, health and environmental concerns develop when people are exposed to uranium in large quantities or it is internalized.

Depleted uranium is the byproduct of the uranium enrichment process, used for nuclear power or weapons. Containing 40% less radioactivity than enriched uranium, this by product was used in the manufacturing of some tanks and bullet in the 1990s. However, depleted uranium contains all the same chemical toxicity of its enriched counterpart. Depleted uranium was used to reinforce tank armor and to strengthen armor-piercing ammunition.

The health effects of depleted uranium exposure come primarily through inhalation, ingestion, contamination of wounds, or direct fragments. Studies on side effects in humans have been relatively limited, confirming only damage to kidneys and other renal issues. Studies on animals have been known to increase respiratory problems (when inhaled) and certain cancers.

The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs created the Depleted Uranium Follow-Up Program to test and monitor veterans and active duty service members who have been exposed to depleted uranium in the following combat situations:

  • Bosnia;
  • Operation Enduring Freedom;
  • Operation New Dawn;
  • the First Gulf War; and
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Simply riding in a tank reinforced with depleted uranium does not qualify you for the study. Of most concern in exposure and contamination are service members who were hit by friendly fire; who participated in the rescue of those hit by friendly fire; who restored and repaired tanks; and those who were near fires located at depleted uranium munition depots and dumps.

Held at the VA Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, these studies include questionnaires, lab test, and physical exams (with continued monitoring). A 24-hour urine collection test is currently the most effective method to determine if you have been exposed. If you believe you have been potentially exposed to depleted uranium, contact your local VA Environmental Health Coordinator to see if you are eligible to participate.

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