Test vets for uranium exposure if they want it

It's pretty unlikely that Pascal Lacoste was exposed to enough depleted uranium in Bosnia, if any, to be sick today.

But the ex-soldier is so convinced it is the source of all his health problems - including a degenerative neurological condition, infertility and chronic pain - that he will again prepare to die for his country, this time by going on a hunger strike to start Saturday.

He wants to both raise awareness about the issue and pressure the Department of Veteran Affairs to provide medical treatment for him, and others like him, before he dies from lack of nourishment. He expects his body will shut down on Remembrance Day.

"If this is what my country expects from me - to die instead of being treated - then I accept my fate, except that I will do it publicly."

The Quebec man, who served in Bosnia in the 1990s, plans to lie on an inflatable air mattress in the back of his SUV and starve himself while parked in front of Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney's office.

The government's denial of the 38-year-old's numerous requests for toxicology tests and decontamination treatments is twofold: firstly because few Canadian soldiers came in contact with the stuff and secondly because tests done a decade ago on returning troops showed no serious levels of depleted uranium.

Depleted uranium is what is left when uranium is processed. It is 40 per cent less radioactive than uranium and the greatest exposure risks are when it's inhaled (for instance, if burned) or ingested (in contaminated food or water).

According to Health Canada, passive external exposure holds very minimal risks, "A person could be completely surrounded by depleted uranium 24 hours a day for a week before receiving a one millisievert dose." As a litmus test, it notes "the dose received from natural background radiation in Canada is about two millisievert per year."

So it's questionable if Lacoste was exposed; if he was, to how much and for how long; plus the kidney is the organ most affected by uranium, which is not the apparent root of any of the vet's problems.

But given the trouncing the federal department is taking over its plan to cut $226 million from its budget due to decreasing numbers of Second World War and Korean War vets, would it really hurt to provide urine tests for depleted uranium to servicemen or women who wanted them?

The goodwill that such a gesture would show would be well worth the cost, while not providing them seems miserly and mean-spirited. It's the least this government could offer veterans who want closure on such concerns.

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