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Soldiers Earn Court Victory In Battle To Prove Exposure Disability

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TWC News: Soldiers Earn Court Victory In Battle To Prove Exposure Disability
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Soldiers from the New York area are reacting to news that they can sue their own military for what they say is mistreatment of medical conditions they continue to suffer after serving time in Iraq. NY1'S Dean Meminger filed the following report.

Iraq war veteran Hector Vega says he still gets headaches and lumps on his hands and neck. Why? He says it is because of high levels of depleted uranium or DU in his body. He says he breathed in the radioactive substance in Iraq. But he says for the last three years military doctors have told him something different.

“I'm still being checked out at the VA hospital and they just keep denying the DU issue and keep telling me I'm suffering fro PTSD," said Vega.

PTSD is post traumatic stress disorder.

Vega is one of nine soldiers suing the government for misdiagnosing their illnesses. It's a case federal prosecutors tried to get thrown out, but a federal judge has now ruled part of their case can go forward.

"It is a great ruling, we did not expect this,” said Vega. “I'm just happy. It was a landmark decision, but this is just part one. We have a long way to go. I just hope we come out on top."

It wasn't a complete victory: the judge ruled they cannot sue for injuries suffered as active duty soldiers, and that includes exposure to DU. They can only sue for the alleged medical mistreatment of DU after they were discharged. Depleted uranium is a slightly radioactive heavy metal used to strengthen missiles and tanks. The vets say they were wounded by radioactive shrapnel or breathed in radioactive particles.

"These brave men did not receive honest and descent medical treatment. In fact the misdiagnosis they got made them feel bad about themselves, that they could not stand up to the stress, when in fact it was due to radioactivity,” said the veterans’ lawyer George Zelma.

The judge ruled their wives also can sue, based on claims they have been deprived of companionship.

At the same time, a suit on behalf of Victoria Matthew, the daughter of one of the soldiers, has been thrown out. Her father says the girl was born with a severely deformed hand because of his DU exposure. But since he cannot sue for his own exposure, only for his misdiagnosis, his daughter' s case can not move forward.

Still, the nine soldiers say they look forward to their day in court to battle their own government.

— Dean Meminger
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