Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has asked his military chiefs and service-branch secretaries to look into questions about the medical care and treatment of about 20 service members who were exposed to chemical weapons during the Iraq war, a senior defense official said Friday.
The official said Hagel made the request during a Thursday meeting and asked them to look into the troops' medical care and whether they were denied military awards. Hagel is not seeking a formal review or investigation but wants the service leaders to get more information and report back to him, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said Hagel wants to determine whether there were any shortcomings in the treatment of the troops.
The New York Times reported this week that troops were exposed to nerve or mustard agents and, due to government secrecy, did not receive proper medical care or awards for their wounds.
During a Pentagon press briefing on Wednesday, Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said he didn't know whether any troops were denied medical treatment.
"I don't know what decisions were made with respect to each of those soldiers at the time," said Kirby. "This happened a long time ago, and it was on an individual basis."
He added that Hagel expects troops to get the care they need, and "if errors were made, mistakes were made, his expectation is they'll be rectified."
Officials over the years had acknowledged the discovery of mostly decayed chemical weapons in caches around the country.