SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation that will help educate veterans and Illinois National Guardsmen about the possible risks of exposure to toxic materials, particularly depleted uranium, while serving overseas. Senate Bill 597, sponsored by State Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora), will assist Persian Gulf veterans and National Guardsmen in finding information on available treatment for exposure to depleted uranium and will establish a task force within the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) to study the health effects of exposure to hazardous materials.
“Our service men and women put their lives on the line to protect our freedom and while bravely doing so, have put themselves at risk of being exposed to dangerous and toxic materials,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “This new law will give our veterans and guardsmen the necessary information on services and resources that are available to them about exposure to depleted uranium and will immediately help those who are already affected by the toxins. We owe it to our service men and women to ensure that when they come home to Illinois, they are able to live healthy lives and we will continue to do everything we can to make sure this happens.”
Because of its high density, depleted uranium has been and is used by the military as defensive armor, ammunition, and projectiles in combat. When heated at high temperatures it ignites emitting smoke containing small particles of uranium oxides that can be easily inhaled and become lodged deep in the lungs remaining for decades. The effects of exposure to depleted uranium can range from headaches and blurred vision to serious kidney and lung damage.
SB 597 creates the National Guard Veterans Exposure to Hazardous Materials Act. The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs will assist veterans and members of the Illinois National Guard who may have been exposed to depleted uranium while serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, or the Persian Gulf in finding information on federal treatment services, including health screening tests for exposure to depleted uranium.
“The men and women serving in our armed forces enlisted to defend our country. While fighting overseas they have been placed into harm’s way and they serve there selflessly,” said Sen. Harmon. “In turn, we must do what we can to ensure that they have access to the information, treatments and screenings that will keep them safe and healthy once they come home to their loved ones.”
SB 597 also establishes a task force within IDVA to study the health risks of exposure to hazardous materials, including depleted uranium. The task force will consist of a representative from the Adjutant General’s office, IDVA, and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), eight members of the General Assembly, two veterans with knowledge of hazardous materials exposure, and four physicians or scientists with knowledge of the health effects of hazardous materials exposure. Appointments to the task force will be made within 30 days and the task force’s first meeting will be held within the next 60 days.
“When serving their country, our brave men and women serving in the military face countless dangers, and one of those lasting dangers is exposure to hazardous materials,” said Rep. Chapa LaVia. “I am happy the Governor is signing this law, which will ensure that veterans know where they can receive screenings and any necessary treatments for exposure to hazardous materials like uranium.”
The task force will consider creating a health registry for returning veterans exposed to hazardous materials; develop ideas for an outreach plan to inform veterans and military personnel about available resources; prepare a report for service members on hazardous materials exposure and precautions while in combat; and recommend any other appropriate action.
SB 597 goes into effect immediately.