For more than three years, the military services have been allowed to ignore a Defense Department order requiring the inclusion of environmental assessments of combat environments in troops’ medical records. The Pentagon in 2006 published an instruction requiring the services add occupational and environmental risk assessments generated for locations during a certain period into medical records of troops who served in the affected place and time.
Some veterans have developed illnesses they believe may be related to exposure to pollutants released by open air burn pits, heavy metals found in fine dust, exposure to chemical weapons and parasites.
Since at least 2012, however, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness waived that requirement, and a memo written in 2013 extended the waiver for another two years, with acting Undersecretary of Defense (P&R) Jessica Wright saying the reports, known as Periodic Occupational and Environmental Monitoring Summaries — POEMS — are summaries of « population-level health risks, » and not an indication of exposure to individual service members.
According to Wright, including the information in medical records could sway troops to link any illnesses they may have to their deployment environment, which may lead to « biased assessments of exposure and health risk » and possibly provide « support for disability claims for chronic illnesses that may not be due to exposure. »
To troops and veterans sick with respiratory illnesses, cancers and unexplained diseases they think are related to pollution, chemicals or other environmental hazards in Iraq and Afghanistan, the memo, initially released online by the law firm Bergmann & Moore, is an outrage, a concerted effort to squelch the truth about deployment environmental hazards, from burn-pit pollution to dust laden with heavy metals.
The original instruction required the services to file any applicable POEMS « in the medical records of each individual for which the exposure applies, » or archive them so they are available to « health care providers and redeployed personnel. » Pentagon spokesman Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson said the information is available upon request and also is being published online in the Military Exposure Surveillance Library, with plans to post more « upon completion and after clearance for public release. » But the retired airman and others say few troops or medical personnel even know what a POEMS is, and even fewer know to ask for them.
Source: Military Times. Read full article here.