Beginning in early 2015, the Pentagon will offer medical exams and health monitoring for US troops and veterans exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq, the New York Times reports. The new measure comes as part of a review from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel after a Times investigation earlier this month found at least six injuries caused by exposure to mustard gas or nerve agents. Now at least 25 troops, many of whom were not considered for Purple Hearts, have come forward to detail their "exposure and inadequate treatment," reports the Times. "I am not going to try to excuse it," says the deputy commanding general for Army operations, Maj. Gen. Gary Cheek. He adds that the military will work with Veterans Affairs to document and treat the exposures.
The military may need to "crawl through the data" of medical records, battlefield reports, and health surveys to make that happen, says a veteran at the Center for a New American Security, adding, "If they only look for people who say [they] were exposed, they will not find them all." A rep for the Army's Public Health Command confirms the plan is to review post-deployment health surveys, as well as the members of explosive ordnance disposal units, who were most at risk of exposure. "The No. 1 thing for us is to make sure we are taking care of soldiers," says Cheek. However, he defends the decision to keep the chemical-weapons finds a secret. The information was kept classified so insurgents wouldn't learn Iraq's old munitions "could be effective," he says.