Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Forgotten Veterans of Cold War Experiments


Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed what many veterans have known: that the Department of Defense (DOD) stopped trying to find those who participated in the military’s chemical and biological experiments. In 2003, they gave up and have no plan to continue.

Between 1953 and 1975, thousands of soldiers – on ships, on the ground, and in the air – participated in Operation SHAD, also known as Project 112. Edgewood Arsenal's chemical weapon and drug tests and Fort Detrick’s Biological Weapon tests exposed volunteers to many different drugs such as LSD and PCP, and other toxins. Most programs never conducted follow-up medical studies.

I am in contact with fifteen other "test vets" or "med vols," and to a man we cannot get recognition from DOD or the Army. Many have attempted to get the promised awards, medals and certificates of appreciation, without success. Some veterans say they were promised the Soldier's Medal, awarded to peacetime soldiers who risk their lives to save others.

The government claims what these men did was not out of the ordinary or heroic. I beg to differ: the amount of dead and disabled say otherwise. It was a dangerous assignment, and we did not give informed consent. Recruiting teams lied to the "volunteers," telling us the experiments were so safe that there was no need for follow-up exams.

There are not many studies of living victims of chemical and biological weapons tests or attacks, so what little there is should be thoroughly reviewed. Examples include the 1995 Tokyo subway Sarin attack, and chemical victims from the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s.

A major 1975 study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) bases its work on Wermacht soldiers of WW2 who worked in the Third Reich’s chemical warfare units. Another important study came in 1994 from the National Institutes of Health. Both of these studies show many long-term health problems resulting from low level exposures, with veterans being affected years later by from cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, nuerological and pulmonary problems.

But Dr. William Page of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) – which won the DOD contract - found no problems, except for 25 personnel per 100,000 who would get brain tumors. That’s an interesting finding given that neither of the other two studies noted such a conclusion.

Meanwhile, test subject veterans are dead and disabled at very high rates, with no explanations from the DOD or the VA, which denies our claims, stating that we have no proof of what or how much we were exposed to, or if the substances cause any problems.

This GAO report shows it doesn't matter because it states that DOD quit looking for more veterans used in these experiments in 2003, despite congressional committees demanding the DOD and the VA help these veterans.

In my own research in the past five years of GAO reports, medical studies, and Congressional reports from the Armed Services and Veteran’s Affairs Committees, I learned that many elected officials who tried to help these men met with stonewalling by the DOD. This is especially so in the past seven years of the Bush Administration.

Of the 7,120 enlisted men used at Edgewood Arsenal, a March 2003 Sarin study shows that 3,098, or 43%, could not be found. One can only assume they are deceased. These men were aged between 45 and 65 at the time of the data-gathering in FY2000. Of the 4022 survivors they did find, 54% (2,200) reported being disabled. The study never explains why, or lists any of the causes.

These are the Conclusions of the 1975 SIPRI report:

Report and the rest of the article