ROME — Italian military personnel who develop diseases they believe are linked to depleted uranium exposure will find it easier to win compensation under new rules proposed by Italy’s defense minister.
The decision by minister Elisabetta Trenta marks a sea change in the way the Italian military treats the link between cancers and depleted uranium after years of ruling out any connection. Suspicions that a link exists have grown after military personnel developed diseases after serving as peacekeepers in the Balkans, where armaments containing depleted uranium were used by NATO forces in the 1990s conflict there.
In recent years, 366 Italian military personnel have died, and 7,500 have taken sick with conditions potentially linked to depleted uranium, prompting courts in Italy to demand compensation, despite denials from military officials that any link existed.
Speaking in parliament on Thursday, defense minister Trenta said she planned to introduce a law, “shifting the burden of blame, freeing the sufferer from having to prove that the disease was contracted following exposure to poisonous substances during service."
"Instead, it will be up to authorities to prove that the disease stems from other causes,” she said.
The decision was the latest change made at the ministry by Trenta, who was appointed by the anti-establishment Five Star party that formed a populist coalition government in Italy last year with the anti-migrant League party. Trenta has focused on emphasis the military-civil dual use aspect of armaments and military service, and has clashed with League party leader Matteo Salvini after she oversaw the use of Navy vessels to rescue migrants sailing to Italy across the Mediterranean from Libya.
On Thursday, as she was addressing parliament, she suffered a mutiny in the ranks, when a junior defense minister, Angelo Tofolo, accused her of making “huge errors” on the job, and criticizing her for treating Salvini as “the enemy.” Tofolo has keenly defended Italy’s purchase of F-35 aircraft, while Trenta has suggested order numbers may be cut after a review of costs. On Thursday she told parliament that Italy would take delivery of 28 aircraft by 2022, part of an expected 90 aircraft order. But she said the ministry of defense “is examining the consequences of scenarios resulting from the possible remodulation of the purchase and the level of participation in the program.”
That prompted criticism from Andrea Causin, a senator with the opposition Forza Italia party, who said the indecision on the program was making Italy the “laughing stock” of Europe.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.