Depleted Uranium Exposure: Health Risks and Benefits for Veterans
Introduction to Depleted Uranium Exposure
Depleted uranium (DU) is a hazardous substance used by the U.S. military in tank armor and certain bullets for its high density and armor-piercing capabilities. Veterans who have served in conflicts like the Gulf War, Bosnia, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn (OND) may have been exposed to DU. This article explores the potential health effects of DU exposure, eligibility for benefits, and available follow-up care for veterans.
How Veterans May Have Been Exposed to Depleted Uranium
During combat operations, veterans may have been exposed to DU in various ways.
- These include being on, in, or near vehicles hit with friendly fire,
- entering or being near burning vehicles,
- salvaging damaged vehicles,
- or encountering fires involving DU munitions.
When a projectile made with DU penetrates a vehicle, small DU particles can be formed and inhaled or ingested by service members in the affected vehicle.
Some small DU fragments can also scatter and become embedded in muscle and soft tissue.
Veterans may have been exposed to depleted uranium through various scenarios during their military service, including:
Conditions Related to Depleted Uranium Exposure
Exposure to depleted uranium has been associated with several health conditions. It is important for veterans to be aware of these conditions, their symptoms, and whether they are classified as presumptive or non-presumptive for disability compensation. Here are some of the conditions related to depleted uranium exposure:
Condition: Kidney Damage
- Symptoms: Notable impact on kidney health
- Presumptive/Non-presumptive: Presumptive
- Eligibility: Veterans with confirmed DU exposure and kidney damage
- Screenings and Follow-up Care: Comprehensive kidney health assessments
- Fact Sheets: VA provides fact sheets on kidney damage related to DU exposure
- Rating Criteria:Kidney Damage is rated under renal dysfunction
Rating Renal dysfunction: Chronic kidney disease with glomerular filtration rate (GFR) less than 15 mL/min/1.73 m2 for at least 3 consecutive months during the past 12 months; or requiring regular routine dialysis; or eligible kidney transplant recipient 100 Chronic kidney disease with GFR from 15 to 29 mL/min/1.73 m2 for at least 3 consecutive months during the past 12 months 80 Chronic kidney disease with GFR from 30 to 44 mL/min/1.73 m2 for at least 3 consecutive months during the past 12 months 60 Chronic kidney disease with GFR from 45 to 59 mL/min/1.73 m2 for at least 3 consecutive months during the past 12 months 30 GFR from 60 to 89 mL/min/1.73 m2 and either recurrent red blood cell (RBC) casts, white blood cell (WBC) casts, or granular casts for at least 3 consecutive months during the past 12 months; or GFR from 60 to 89 mL/min/1.73 m2 and structural kidney abnormalities (cystic, obstructive, or glomerular) for at least 3 consecutive months during the past 12 months; or GFR from 60 to 89 mL/min/1.73 m2 and albumin/creatinine ratio (ACR) ≥30 mg/g for at least 3 consecutive months during the past 12 months 0 Note: GFR, estimated GFR (eGFR), and creatinine-based approximations of GFR will be accepted for evaluation purposes under this section when determined to be appropriate and calculated by a medical professional.
Condition: Bone Mineral Density (BMD) Issues
- Symptoms: Lower bone mineral density
- Presumptive/Non-presumptive: Non-presumptive
- Rating Criteria: BMD is rated as osteoporosis. If osteoporosis affects a major joint such as the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, or ankles and results in occasional incapacitation, veterans may be eligible for a disability rating of 20 percent. This rating corresponds to the code 5013-5003. On the other hand, if the osteoporosis does not cause incapacitations, a disability rating of 10 percent (code 5013) may be assigned.
- Eligibility: Veterans with confirmed DU exposure and BMD issues
- Screenings and Follow-up Care: Ongoing monitoring of bone health
- Fact Sheets: VA provides fact sheets on BMD issues related to DU exposure
Condition: Respiratory Problems
- Symptoms: Persistent cough, shortness of breath
- Presumptive/Non-presumptive: Non-presumptive
- Eligibility: Veterans with confirmed DU exposure and respiratory issues
- Screenings and Follow-up Care: Pulmonary function tests, respiratory assessments
- Fact Sheets: VA provides fact sheets on respiratory problems related to DU exposure
- Rating Criteria: Evaluation based on medical evidence
These are just a few examples of the conditions associated with depleted uranium exposure. Veterans should consult with their healthcare providers and VA Environmental Health Coordinators for a comprehensive understanding of potential health risks.
Health Problems Associated with Depleted Uranium Exposure
Depleted uranium can pose health risks if it enters the body, such as through embedded fragments, contaminated wounds, inhalation, or ingestion. While the radiation from DU is of high energy, it poorly penetrates tissues. Therefore, riding in a vehicle with DU weapons or shielding does not result in significant exposure to DU or external radiation. The potential for health effects arises when DU enters the body. Inhaled DU particles are typically cleared from the lungs over several years, but DU fragments can remain for an extended period.
Research shows an association between elevated urine uranium levels in veterans exposed to DU and lower bone mineral density. However, further study is needed to determine if these effects persist over time. The health implications of DU exposure are continuously monitored by researchers and clinicians to ensure the well-being of affected veterans.
Compensation Benefits for Health Problems
Veterans who believe their health problems are related to depleted uranium exposure during their military service may file a claim for disability compensation. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) evaluates these claims on a case-by-case basis, considering the specific circumstances and medical evidence provided by the veterans.
The VA and the Department of Defense have established the Depleted Uranium Follow-up Program at the Baltimore VA Medical Center to screen and monitor veterans for health problems associated with DU exposure from friendly fire incidents.
- Depleted uranium is a hazardous substance used by the military for its density and armor-piercing capabilities.
- Veterans may have been exposed to DU through various combat-related scenarios.
- DU exposure can lead to conditions such as kidney damage, bone mineral density issues, and respiratory problems.
- Some conditions are presumptive for disability compensation, while others require medical evaluation.
- Veterans can seek screenings and follow-up care through VA programs and healthcare providers.
- VA provides fact sheets and resources to support veterans in understanding the health risks associated with DU exposure.
Depleted uranium exposure presents potential health risks for veterans who have served in conflicts where DU was utilized. It is crucial for veterans to be aware of the conditions related to DU exposure, their symptoms, and available compensation benefits. Regular screenings and follow-up care can help monitor and manage potential health problems. By staying informed and seeking appropriate medical attention, veterans can take steps to protect their well-being.
- Environmental Health Registry Evaluations for Veterans fact sheet
- VA Fact Sheet: Depleted Uranium (DU)
- VA Website Depleted Uranium
- Gulf War and Health: Updated Literature Review of Depleted Uranium by the Health and Medicine Division (HMD) of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Frequently Asked Questions:
- Is depleted uranium still used by the military?
- Yes, depleted uranium is still used by the military for specific applications.
- Can depleted uranium exposure cause cancer?
- Depleted uranium exposure has not been definitively linked to cancer in scientific studies, but it is associated with certain health conditions.
- How can veterans determine if they were exposed to depleted uranium?
- Veterans can consult with their VA Environmental Health Coordinator or healthcare provider for screenings and evaluations to determine DU exposure.
- What are the long-term effects of depleted uranium exposure?
- Long-term effects may include kidney damage, bone mineral density issues, and respiratory problems. Ongoing research and monitoring aim to better understand these effects.
- Can veterans receive compensation for health problems related to depleted uranium exposure?
- Veterans can file a claim for disability compensation with the VA, which evaluates claims on a case-by-case basis.
Please note that the information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not substitute professional medical advice. Veterans are encouraged to consult with their healthcare providers and VA representatives for personalized guidance.