Depleted uranium (DU) is a very dense metal used by the military to strengthen special armor on tanks and other equipment and to make armor-piercing munitions. DU is not a health concern unless it enters the body as embedded metal fragments (shrapnel) or through the inhalation or ingestion of dust-like particles of DU, which can result from being in close proximity to fires or explosions involving munitions or equipment containing DU.
DU munitions were first used in combat during Operation Desert Storm (1991 Gulf War). In 2003 as part of the Department of Defense's (DoD) overall surveillance program for service members returning from deployment, DoD developed a medical screening program to identify and track service members who may have been exposed to DU.
In 2007, as a result of the increasing number of service members with shrapnel or retained fragment wounds received from blast injuries during the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and the concern that some types of fragments could have long-term health effects, DoD developed a program for analyzing metal fragments removed from DoD personnel. In 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) established a toxic embedded fragment surveillance center to analyze embedded fragments, create a registry of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn (OEF/OIF/OND) veterans who have had a fragment removed or who still have a fragment in their body, and use information from the registry to develop guidelines for medical care.