– Military veterans used as unwitting test subjects in chemical and
biological warfare experiments by the U. S. government in the 1960s won a
landmark legal victory last Tuesday in federal court. In a thoughtful
17-page opinion, U. S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer rejected an
attempt to dismiss a lawsuit seeking damages for government officials’
cover-up of the experiments and denial of information to veterans
potentially harmed by exposure to chemical and biological agents and
simulants. The Court ruled that the law and “common sense” supported her
jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit.
“This is a truly significant victory for
veterans who may have been poisoned by agents of the nation they defended,”
said Thomas H. Corey, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, the lead
plaintiff in the lawsuit. “VVA, with the legal expertise of Shaw Pittman
LLP, will continue to seek the truth about the deception of Project 112 and
seek justice for those who were its unwitting subjects.”
“The impact of this decision for
veterans seeking to hold government officials accountable for their actions
is hard to overestimate,” said Shaw Pittman partner David Cynamon, the lead
attorney on the case. “The Court found clear jurisdiction to hold
government officials liable for the harm that they cause by deliberately
misinforming the public.”
Former Defense Secretary Robert S.
McNamara is among the defendants named in the class- action lawsuit for
allegedly covering up medical information without which veterans of
biological and chemical warfare testing cannot receive medical treatment.
The plaintiffs include veterans, their families, and Vietnam Veterans of
America, who allege a deliberate and ongoing cover-up by federal officials
to conceal and ignore relevant documents, many of which contain personal
medical information that would allow veterans to seek benefits from the
Department of Veterans Affairs.
The case now shifts to determining
whether the named officials are immune from liability for having knowingly
misled veterans of SHAD/Project 112. SHAD is the acronym for Shipboard
Hazard and Defense; SHAD was part of a series of operational chemical and
biological warfare vulnerability tests dubbed “Project 112.”
“We believe the law is clear that government officials
cannot knowingly cover up government activities just to avoid responsibility
or embarrassment,” Corey said.