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€30m veterans’ DU compensation package approved by Italian Cabinet

Italian compensation package agreed after Ministry of Defence convinces government of link between ill health and DU exposure. Health survey of personnel who served overseas to be published in the next few months.
9 January 2009 - ICBUW

During a meeting of the Italian Cabinet on the 18th December 2008, the Italian Ministry of Defence, Ignazio La Russa, managed to win approval for a €30m compensation package for DU victims. The money will be paid out over the next three years.

In addition to the financial assistance for sick veterans, the decision acknowledges that some service personnel have become ill through exposure to uranium weapons. At a press conference following the Cabinet meeting, the Ministry said: “It's a duty for us to support the soldiers and their families, victims of depleted uranium and nano-particles.” This important statement was largely ignored by the mainstream media.

The decision marks the final step of a process begun by the previous Prodi government who appointed an investigative commission. The commission finished its work in March 2008 and while it didn’t name DU as a definitive cause of ill health among veterans, it did find that environmental pollution in war zones where DU had been used as a likely cause of illness.

The commission also stated that the burden of proof should be inverted, concluding that proof that the service personnel had been deployed in areas where DU had been used was sufficient evidence to support compensation when they later got ill or when heavy metal nano-particles were found in their bodies. This important move has been of great help to the families of soldiers who have died and to personnel ill with leukaemia who are suing the state administration.

One such compensation case was that of the widow of helicopter pilot Stefano Melone. In December, and after many years of fighting, the High Court finally agreed to a compensation package for his death.

However, in spite of the Cabinet’s decision, two major issues still remain, both concern the health assessment of Italian personnel who have returned to Italy after missions abroad.

Hundreds of officials have been involved in collecting and collating data on ill soldiers from each Italian military district and the results are overdue. The data has been collected in paper format and the thousands of often incomplete paper files are slowly being transferred into digital format. The original deadline for the survey was October 2008 and Defence Ministry staff are working hard to complete the survey. The results – the first complete screening of Italian personnel – are expected to be publicly announced in a few months. It is hoped that the results will give a clearer picture of the extent of ill health among Italian veterans.

In addition to the health assessment being published later than planned, veterans groups, including Osservatorio Militare and Anavafaf have complained that the data will be incomplete. The investigation only covers the decade between 1996 and 2006, this means it will exclude the years when Italian troop were deployed in Bosnia and Somalia - 1994 and 1995 respectively.

This year will be an important one for the Italian scientific committee nominated by the government at the end of 2007 and whose work has been delayed for a year. The committee includes nuclear energy expert Prof. Massimo Zucchetti, nano-particle researcher Maria Antonietta Gatti and the epidemiologist Valerio Gennaro.