Congressional candidate: Chemical weapons exposure reports ‘very personal to me’
Jason Gardner is angry but not surprised to hear reports of how fellow Iraq War veterans were exposed to chemical weapons.
“It was just a matter of time before it came out. I’m extremely upset,” Gardner said.
The Lynn resident and Army veteran joined congressional candidate Seth Moulton Thursday in raising questions about the exposures and what the incidents say about ongoing security in Iraq and veterans health care.
Gardner served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006 and left the military with breathing problems that required surgery. Gardner does not specifically trace his health problems to chemical weapons exposure — he said Iraqi air filled with smoke from open sewers, burning human bodies and fine sand particles could have contributed to his problems.
The New York Times this week reported 20 American soldiers and seven Iraqi police officers were exposed to “mustard and nerve agents” in chemical dumps for weapons formerly maintained by Iraq.
“Soldiers had to self-diagnose exposure to mustard gas. They clearly didn’t get the treatment they needed,” Moulton said.
Moulton, who fought as a Marine in Iraq, called the exposure reports “an issue very personal to me.” He called for an “immediate acknowledgment” of the exposure and the awarding of all eligible military decorations to soldiers wounded by chemical weapons exposure. He also said a “full accounting” of chemical weapons in Iraq should be undertaken.
He said his “first priority” if he wins the Nov. 4 final election for the 6th Congressional District will be Veterans Administration reform “to make sure the VA bureaucracy serves today’s veterans.”
He made his remarks flanked by Gardner and fellow Iraq veteran Marvin Pena of Saugus and Vietnam veteran Steven Schuyler, a North Reading resident, who said he was exposed to the chemical vegetation defoliant Agent Orange.
“We’re lucky: In Massachusetts, veterans are well treated,” Schuyler said.
Moulton agreed and said he is well cared for by his VA primary physician but must wait in line for hours with other veterans to get blood tests and other medical procedures. Moulton said Congress has an historically low number of veterans to question veterans’ care quality and U.S. overseas military engagements.
Concerning the ongoing violence, Moulton said, “The fundamental problem in Iraq is political.” Independent congressional candidate Chris Stockwell, in a campaign statement, said he supports “use of highly trained special operations forces on the ground to remove the threat” of Islamic State fighters.
Republican congressional candidate Richard Tisei in a debate with Moulton last Friday said the U.S. blundered in pulling military forces from Iraq and said he will wait to evaluate President Obama’s approaches to combating ISIS.
“I don’t want to tie his hands,” Tisei said.