Washington – A congressional subcommittee on veterans issues will hold a hearing this month on whether troops are being medically screened, as required by law, before being sent overseas.
Congress required the military in 1997 to ensure that troops receive medical examinations, including tests of their blood and mental health, before deployment and after they return.
The law grew out of concern about unexplained illnesses that followed the 1991 Gulf War. The medical tests required by the law were intended to establish a medical baseline that could provide clues in case the phenomenon, known as Gulf War syndrome, should recur.
The Kansas City Star reported last week that troops being deployed to the Persian Gulf were receiving only a brief health questionnaire with general questions.
Michael Kilpatrick, a top Pentagon health official, said the military thought it was following the intent of the law.
Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat active on veterans issues, has asked the General Accounting Office to investigate whether the Pentagon is doing so.
The March 25 hearing will be conducted by the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations of the House Committee on Government Reform.
Lawrence Halloran, the subcommittee’s staff director and chief counsel, said the unexplained health problems experienced by many veterans of the Gulf War weren’t “just stress.”
The hearing, he said, will try to determine whether troops are getting the necessary medical tests and whether records are being kept in case similar problems arise should a second Gulf War occur.
“That’s a lesson that should have been learned,” Halloran said. “We missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We shouldn’t miss it again.”
The hearing will also serve as a follow-up on the subcommittee’s investigation two years ago into the military’s readiness to fight future wars, he said.
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