The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

January/February 2006
SHAD/PROJECT 112 TASK FORCE REPORT
 
 

Hope In Bipartisanship

BY JACK ALDERSON, CHAIR

The Veterans’ Right to Know Commission Act, H.R. 4259, was introduced November 8 by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Denny Rehberg R-Mont.). This legislation will, when enacted, “bring the first true measure of justice to potentially tens of thousands of veterans who were subject to toxic exposures in the performance of their military duties,” VVA National President John Rowan said. 

Veterans are indebted to Reps. Rehberg and Thompson for their leadership and commitment to a shining, if rare, example of real bipartisanship. We hope that others in both houses of Congress on both sides of the aisle will agree that creating a commission to look into the potential health effects related to these tests is the right thing to do.

For those of you unfamiliar with what this is about, let me offer some background:

SHAD is an acronym for Shipboard Hazard and Defense (or Decontamination, or Detection). It was part of a larger program of chemical and biological testing called Project 112. It ran from the early 1960s through the early 1970s, when President Nixon called a halt to bio-chem testing. SHAD was top secret. When VVA started asking questions a few years ago, the Department of Defense denied that the program had taken place.

DoD has since acknowledged that 134 tests were planned and that 50 were executed: 19 at sea (for the most part in the South Pacific; also off the coast of Hawaii) and 31 on land (in Hawaii, the Panama Canal Zone, and Alaska). The Fact Sheets produced by DoD’s Deployment Health Support Directorate are riddled with errors and, we believe, woefully incomplete.

The bio-chem testing is not limited to a few thousand sailors; some six thousand names were given by DoD to the VA to contact, explaining that they were involved in bio-chem testing, and that they are eligible to have a physical at the VA, which would treat their maladies without proof of service-connection.

The VA acknowledges that at least seventy thousand American servicemen have been exposed to chemical and biological agents and simulants since World War II. This figure, we believe, is a low estimate. In the SHAD program, VVA has assembled a body of documents and reports that give a good, if incomplete, picture of what went on at sea. We have far less knowledge than we’d like about the land-based tests, however.

Most of these tests used simulants, such as bacillus globigii, the molecular structure of which is akin to anthrax. Some, however, used “hot” agents, such as VX, sarin, Q fever, and tularemia. Information is still classified about the “dosage” levels military personnel were exposed to during these tests. This information is needed if these veterans are to learn if their health has been compromised and if they can be successful in claims for disability compensation from the VA.

This is the primary reason we need a commission to look into all facets of Project 112/SHAD. The commission will have subpoena power. One-third of its staff will have the clearances necessary to examine documents still kept under wraps by DoD.

One of the particularly vexing issues for SHAD veterans is determining what they were inoculated against. Sailors were given vaccinations for a variety of diseases. Most of them did not know, however, what they were inoculated against and these inoculations do not show up on their health records.

Because DoD has not answered all the questions VSOs and individual veterans have asked, Reps. Thompson and Rehberg, both of whom served during the Vietnam War, have seen fit to cosponsor H.R. 4259. Officials at DoD and the VA give out only what they think we already know. They do not seem to be particularly concerned about insuring that veterans whose health may have been compromised by exposures while they were serving our nation get all the information they need to learn if a medical condition may be associated with or correlated to a bio-chem exposure.

Because DoD has not been forthcoming with dosage information, many veterans attribute any malady to what they may have been exposed to while in the service. Misinformation or lack of information only foments more questions and doubts about the truthfulness of our government as well as fear among veterans and their families. During 112/SHAD, DoD developed new decontamination procedures and protocols. Because DoD classified this operation, not even acknowledging that it had occurred until confronted with irrefutable evidence, the knowledge gained has not been given to today’s service personnel. Knowledgeable SHAD veterans who have seen the lesson plans and procedures currently being taught believe that they would benefit from lessons learned 40 years ago.

A Veterans’ Right to Know Commission, given subpoena power and staffed at least in part by people with top-secret clearances, will have the authority to delve into records now hidden from public view to determine if the health of veterans may have been compromised during their participation in 112/SHAD tests. VVA sees no logical reason, for national security or anything else, why dosage information and the safety plans for each test have not been declassified.

Our hope is that the Commission will open doors and let the light of truth illuminate what has been darkened for far too long, and that veterans afflicted with diseases they believe have been caused by exposure to toxic agents, simulants, and decontaminants will finally get the information needed to help determine if these diseases are associated with their military service. 

VVA also believes that it is our obligation to ensure that those who have served be treated fairly, justly, and equitably. A final report by the Commission to Congress, listing its inquiries, its findings, and its recommendations for executive and legislative action, can go a long way toward restoring faith and confidence in our military leadership.

WHO’S ON BOARD

Today, H.R. 4259 has 22 co-sponsors. In addition to Reps. Rehberg and Thompson, original co-sponsors are: Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Rush Holt (D-N.J.), and Ted Strickland (D-Ohio). 

Representatives who have signed on since the bill was introduced are: Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), Dennis Moore (D-Kansas), Allen Boyd (D- Fla.), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Marion Berry (D-Ark.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Miller (R- la.), Luis Fortuno (D-P.R.), Mark Foley (R-Fla.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Jane Harman (D-Calif.).

VVA v. MacNAMARA, ET AL

One month after the introduction of H.R. 4259, oral arguments were heard by a three-judge panel in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., concerning the sister lawsuits of the Atomic and 112/SHAD veterans. The plaintiffs, VVA and 21 individual SHAD veterans, were most ably represented by our pro bono attorneys: David Cynamon of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP and Douglas Rosinski with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart in Columbia, South Carolina.

First off a strong thank-you to these two very articulate and competent gentlemen and their supporting firms. Those of us attending the hearing—some folks came in from as far afield as Hawaii—were briefed by the lawyers the evening before the oral arguments were heard. 

Our attorneys framed the issues as a question of constitutional rights being violated. What they anticipated being a short hearing lasted almost an hour and a half as the judges peppered plaintiff and defendant with well-thought-out questions. We may be partial, but we believe our side won. We’ll find out, though, when the judges render their decision within, we hope, the next five months.

INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE STUDY

In addition to the lawsuit and the legislation, there is a third facet of the effort to learn more about 112/SHAD.

The IOM has been contracted by the VA to conduct a survey of the health status of SHAD veterans. The goal of this study is to determine if there are statistically significant differences in the health status of SHAD participants compared to a control group of sailors. The first piece of this study is a questionnaire that has been mailed out to hundreds of SHAD and control group veterans. We urge all veterans who receive it to fill it out as completely as possible and send it back to the IOM.

Furthermore, we ask that anyone who served in any Army, Air Force, or Marine unit that participated in 112/SHAD tests contact us so that we can expand our database and get a better handle on some of the land-based tests.

   

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