The U.S. military uses tank armor and some bullets made with depleted uranium (DU) to penetrate enemy armored vehicles, and began using DU on a large scale during the Gulf War.
The process of manufacturing enriched uranium from natural uranium used in nuclear reactors or weapons leaves "depleted" uranium. DU has 40 percent less radioactivity, but the same chemical toxicity as natural uranium.
If you think you were exposed to depleted uranium during your service, talk to your local VA Environmental Health Coordinator. Ask to be screened for depleted uranium exposure, and ask about the Depleted Uranium Follow-up Program.
How Veterans may have been exposed
When a projectile made with DU penetrates a vehicle, small pieces of DU can scatter and become embedded in muscle and soft tissue. In addition to DU in wounds, Servicemembers exposed to DU in struck vehicles may inhale or swallow small airborne DU particles.
Some Gulf War, Bosnia, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn (OND) Veterans who may have been exposed to DU are those who were: on, in or near vehicles hit with friendly fire; entering or near burning vehicles; near fires involving DU munitions; or salvaging damaged vehicles.
Health problems associated with depleted uranium
DU is a potential health hazard if it enters the body, such as through embedded fragments, contaminated wounds, and inhalation or ingestion. Simply riding in a vehicle with DU weapons or DU shielding will not expose a Servicemember to significant amounts of DU or external radiation.
The potential for health effects from internal exposure is related to the amount of DU that enters a person’s body. If DU enters the body, it may remain in the body. Studies show high doses may especially affect the kidneys.
So far no health problems associated with DU exposure have been found in Veterans exposed to DU. Researchers and clinicians continue to monitor the health of these Veterans.
If you are concerned about depleted uranium exposure during service, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator. Ask to be screened for depleted uranium exposure, and ask about the Depleted Uranium Follow-up Program.
Veterans who served in the Gulf War, Bosnia, OEF, OIF, or OND may be eligible for the Depleted Uranium Follow-up Program at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, a program to screen and monitor health problems associated with depleted uranium exposure.
Compensation benefits for health problems
Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to depleted uranium during service. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis. File a claim online.
Learn more about VA benefits.