600 Military Vets Reported Chemical Exposure in Iraq
Pentagon sets up 1-800 number for troops
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 6, 2014 6:59 PM CST
A member of the 63rd Signal Battalion takes part in a field training exercise simulating a chemical weapon attack at Fort Gordon, Ga., in August.   (AP Photo/The Augusta Chronicle, Jon-Michael Sullivan)

(Newser) – The Pentagon has been playing catch-up with veterans exposed to chemical agents in Iraq, and the numbers involved just increased exponentially. The New York Times reports that 629 members of the US military since 2003 have reported exposure during their tours of duty—not from attacks but from encounters with abandoned arsenals. When the newspaper reported last month that the Pentagon had essentially ignored the problem all these years, the number of known cases was about two dozen.

On defense chief Chuck Hagel's orders, the Army went back over standard medical history surveys filled out by troops and discovered the larger number. "No one ever believed me," says former Army Sgt. Jordan Zoeller, who has suffered health problems since his exposure in 2008. "They were like, 'Oh, that never happened.'" In a sign of the scope of the problem, which may yet be understated, the Pentagon now has a toll-free number for concerned vets to call: 1-800-497-6261.