In 2003, US troops were operating near the Qarmat Ali water-treatment plant. As Iraqi troops fled, the Iraqis covered the land with hexavalent chromium, an industrial chemical. Recently, those troops that served near Qarmat Ali have been notified they may have been exposed to the chemical.
The VA wants to follow and chart all cases of the Qarmat Ali veterans separately so they may study them over time.
Troops that have been notified have also been given recommended steps to take:
- Undergo examinations by a VA environmental physician; and
- Enroll in the Gulf War Registry (the list includes 112,515 veterans whose symptoms are directly related to tours in the Gulf in 1990-1991 & Iraq since 2003).
These soldiers aren’t alone, nor are they suffering in silence. The weight of the exposure falls not only on the veteran, but on the veteran’s family as well. Soldiers returning with disease and infection are not the same soldiers that left.
While operating at Qarmat Ali, soldiers stayed outside the plant while private contractors worked inside. Once the troops rotated back to different bases and away from Qarmat Ali, their symptoms persisted. Twenty-one soldiers from 1 National Guard unit have already sued one of the companies working inside for intentionally exposing them to hexavalent chromium or at the very least, withholding the information, to restore the flow of oil and earn bonuses.
These 21 soldiers join soldiers from around the country, who also spent time at Qarmat Ali, and suffer similar symptoms:
- Breathing problems;
- High blood pressure;
- Racing heart;
- Severe acid reflux;
- Short-term memory loss;
- Severe sleep apnea;
- Stomach problems; and
- Being at a higher risk for cancer.
Like all veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other ailments, veterans suffering from exposure to hexavalent chromium are having trouble getting access to proper treatment. For those suffering from the exposure to hexavalent chromium, it is now just a matter of remaining functional and returning to society as much as possible.