VVA Testimony VVA Testimony
VVA Testimony

 
 

STATEMENT

OF

VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA


SUBMITTED BY

Richard Weidman
Director, Government Relations

 Before the

 Senate Committee on Armed Services
Subcommittee on Personnel

 Regarding

 Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD)

 October 10, 2002

On behalf of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), and our National President, Thomas H. Corey, we would like to thank the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Subcommittee on Personnel for tackling an issue that has been ignored for more than 40 years.  In addition, we would like to recognize the following individuals, without whose strong leadership and steadfast pursuit of the truth in these matters, information vital to the health of our Nation’s veterans which would still remain hidden. To the distinguished Chairman of the full committee, the Honorable Carl Levin and Ranking Member Senator John Warner as well as Senators Tim Hutchinson and Max Cleland, our sincere gratitude for your leadership.  A special thank you is owed to Senator Bill Nelson for his tireless efforts as well.  VVA must also recognize and thank Representative Mike Thompson for his zealous quest for the truth in the House of Representatives.   

And most of all VVA is grateful and wishes to pay respect to the individuals who were exposed to live chemical warfare agents, live biological warfare agents, and perhaps strong dosages of radiation.  These men have pursued the truth of these matters as civilians just as faithfully and determinedly as they fulfilled their duties to America in military service.

Sadly, the reason that this issue has not come to the attention of the American public and the Congress sooner is because it appears that our military has treated its own personnel without regard for their health and safety, and obfuscation when those who have served their country require information that might affect their very lives.  This delay has been further exacerbated by inaction and, occasionally, deliberate measures, on the part of individuals within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) who have assisted the Department of Defense (DoD) in the obfuscation of the truth, thereby allowing the VA to deny veterans claims for the adverse health effects of exposure to the agents used in Project SHAD (Shipboard Hazard and Defense).  Military personnel deserve the truth surrounding health consequences related to military exposures, military testing or any event in which the DoD may be culpable.  More importantly, they deserve treatment, healthcare and compensation for resulting disability(-ies).

More than 40 years ago, Navy and Army personnel were involved in a series of tests to determine shipboard vulnerabilities.  Some of these men were required to sign non-disclosure agreements to ensure their silence, others were simply not informed of the test in which they were involved or the possible health effects of such testing.

In testimony today, we will hear of the impassioned pleas of the veterans who have consistently demanded answers from the Federal government.  The Committee will witness firsthand the concealment and dissemination of misinformation undertaken by the DoD and middle management gate keepers within the Department of Veterans Affairs.  All of this deception and obstruction were designed to simply do two things:  1) prevent the truth from being known, and, 2) delay or prevent the cost of healthcare and compensation for those affected.

This pattern has repeated itself over and over again.  Consider the plight of military personnel and veterans concerning the effects of gas in WWI; radiation in WWII; Agent Orange in Vietnam; toxic exposures in the Persian Gulf.  Nevertheless, young men and women continue to serve this great nation.  One day, they may decide that the burden is too much to bear if someone does not step up to the plate and restore the confidence in our military and the Federal veterans’ healthcare and compensation system.  That confidence can only be restored by a national commitment that if our servicemen and women are harmed in anyway as a result of their service, our nation will do its part to make the service member whole without delay, without denial and without reservation. 

VVA could provide rather lengthy detail about how the Projects 112 and SHAD developed and who was responsible for its conduct from the 1960s through the 1970s.  However, rather than give a history lesson, we want to focus on the facts, followed by some very specific recommendations.

THE FACTS

·        National Security Action Message (NSAM) 235 described the scope and complexity of  “Large Scale Scientific or Technological Experiments with Possible Adverse Environmental Effects”.  This document is submitted to demonstrate the level of concern and information requirements needed to conduct or cancel any future testing of this nature.

·        The Geneva Convention, to which the United States is a signatory, requires informed consent when using humans in any kind of testing.  This informed consent also covers vaccines, investigational drugs, testing delivery methods, testing protective measures and any other testing where data is gathered through the use of human subjects.

·        SHAD veterans were not afforded Geneva Convention protection in clear violation of international law.  The United States government, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs withheld the knowledge that SHAD testing had actually occurred; each Department or Agency with varying degrees of complicity for well over 40 years.

·        SHAD veterans have suffered needlessly because critical health and exposure data were not released for more than 40 years.  Many veterans have died and others currently suffer adverse health effects that are, to this day, being dismissed as having no connection to the testing.

·        As early as 1975, the United States Senate in the Ninety-fourth Congress conducted hearings to understand the use and storage of toxic agents with respect to intelligence activities of the C.I.A and military.   In this report, many of the tests discussed were under Project 112, but the Senate probe was not made aware of the full scope of the program.

·        In 1977, the Department of the Army published the report entitled “U.S. Army Activity in the U.S. Biological Warfare Programs”, Volumes 1 and 2.  Chapter 5 of this document discusses the period in which SHAD veterans were used to conduct shipboard vulnerability testing.  Specifically noteworthy in this chapter is the section on page 5-6 which states, “[i]n addition, review and approval by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the President’s Scientific Advisory Committee (PSAC)” were required.  Coupled with the Deputy Secretary of Defense approval of only part of the test, these documents demonstrate the extreme care taken to assure the ultimate in safety, the highest level of review and approval, and appropriate government coordination.  These reviews of proposed Biological Weapons/Chemical Weapons tests focused on the need to place governmental controls on any experiment that could have adverse effects on the environment; and precipitated NSAM 235.

·        The level of consideration and review required makes it difficult for VVA to understand why DOD and the Deployment Health Support Directorate (DHSD, the office formally known as OSAGWI) is claiming that some of the tests may not have actually been conducted and that they can find no records of other tests clearly slated to be conducted.  This program did not allow for fly-by-night testing to be conducted or canceled without the highest level of review.  What information remains unknown concerning military testing that DOD has not admitted to?  Will there be a need to meet again in the years to follow to hear admissions of additional testing?

·        In 1992, the Army responded to Senator Steve Symms personal request for information regarding a constituent who claimed he was part of project designed to test the vulnerabilities of ships and humans to various chemical and biological agents.  The answer provided to the Senator in 1992 describes almost exactly what we know about the project today. 

·        In 1993, Senator John D. Rockefeller, in an unrelated request, tasked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to perform a comprehensive search for all chemical and biological testing under the guise of “Military Human Experiments”.  This research was required in order to set the record straight on the last 50 years of human testing, including new investigational drugs and vaccines that were subsequently used during the Gulf War.  The reason such exhaustive research was required was because veterans could not prove they had been part of these secret testing programs.  Even though they believed that they suffered adverse health consequences of being experimented upon, absent official records of exposure, the VA could deny medical treatment and compensation because the veteran could not meet their burden of proof.  According to the GAO report, the VA had knowledge of secret army chemical tests that involved Army and Navy personnel as early as 1992.

·        In 1994, many other individual veterans began to seek assistance from their Senators and Representatives to get information about the health risks and consequences of the testing.  Senator Dianne Feinstein received a response from the Army which stated that “[t]he Army will respond to the VA request for information associated with personnel exposure by providing verification of exposure if possible, identification of agents used, and available information on possible dosage and effects”.  This statement, not unexpectedly, did not seem to apply to the GAO report then underway in 1994.  In fact, as far as the VVA can ascertain, no SHAD veteran has ever received an award of service-connected benefits for any disease or illness based upon an assertion of an etiological relationship to BW/CW testing.

·        On December 8, 1994, Senator Rockefeller submitted a report entitled “Is Military Research Hazardous to Veterans Health?”  This report was based on the GAO investigation and was supposed to contain comprehensive findings concerning all human subject testing.  In its investigation, the GAO had queried all federal agencies, including the DoD, the VA and any other agency believed to possess information on human testing.  Nevertheless, SHAD is not mentioned in the GAO report, nor is it discussed in the Rockefeller report.  Yet, even now, increasing numbers of SHAD-exposed  veterans are asking for information from both the DoD and the VA.  Veterans are trying to obtain the evidence that is required in order to substantiate claims for VA compensation and healthcare.  The only logical possible explanation for the current situation is that the Department of Defense was neither truthful nor forthcoming in responding to the GAO about the existence of SHAD testing.  Sadder still, the Department of Veterans Affairs has, until recently, acted as if its does not understand the nature of these veterans’ claims or whether the testing actually occurred.  Responses to VVA’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documentation have borne out these scenarios.

·        Records obtained through FOIA requests demonstrate that middle-level managers within the Department of Veterans Affairs had full knowledge of the scope and adverse heath consequences faced by service members who participated in SHAD testing.  These individuals had been in direct contact with the Department of Defense concerning these matters.  They include, but are not limited to, the VA’s Compensation and Pension Service, Environmental Hazards and the Veterans Health Administration..  It appears that these individuals have affirmatively sought to hide the truth from senior VA management, Congress, the VSOs and the American Public.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

In light of the foregoing, in order to facilitate SHAD-exposed veterans access to VA healthcare and compensation benefits before their health deteriorates further, VVA recommends the following.

  • SHAD and Project 112-related information must be immediately declassified as to exposed personnel, agents employed and dosage levels. 

  • Exposed veterans should be notified as soon as they are identified and called in for immediate examination and claims preparation.

  • A national registry should be created for these veterans, with thorough examination and diagnostic testing protocols. 

Furthermore, VVA requests an investigation be conducted by the Inspectors General for the VA, DoD and the Justice Department into why and how information was withheld from those who needed it most, including VA leadership.  The actions of those in the DoD and VA that have withheld information and/or mislead others must be rectified through investigation, proper disciplinary action, and criminal prosecution, where warranted.

Once again, VVA would like to express its gratitude to the Committee for the opportunity to present its views in this matter of vital importance to our Nation’s veterans.  In addition, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge and thank the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi, for his sincere commitment to our service personnel, whose unknowing exposure to hazardous agents have resulted in long-term health consequences.  Those men and women who have been adversely affected by their service to our country deserve no less.  VVA stands ready to assist Congress and the executive branch in any way in accomplishing this task.


VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA

Funding Statement

October 10, 2002

 

            The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit veterans membership organization registered as a 501(c)(19) with the Internal Revenue Service.  VVA is also appropriately registered with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. 

            VVA is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract, other than the routine allocation of office space and associated resources in VA Regional Offices for outreach and direct services through its Veterans Benefits Program (Service Representatives).  This is also true of the previous two fiscal years.

 

For Further Information, Contact:

            Director of Government Relations

            Vietnam Veterans of America.

            (301) 585-4000, extension 127


RICHARD WEIDMAN 

Richard F. “Rick” Weidman serves as Director of Government Relations on the National Staff of Vietnam Veterans of America. As such, he is the primary spokesperson for VVA in Washington. He served as a 1-A-O Army Medical Corpsman during the Vietnam war, including service with Company C, 23rd Med, AMERICAL Division, located in I Corps of Vietnam in 1969.  

Mr. Weidman was part of the staff of VVA from 1979 to 1987, serving variously as Membership Service Director, Agency Liaison, and Director of Government Relations.  He left VVA to serve in the Administration of Governor Mario M. Cuomo (NY) as statewide director of veterans employment & training (State Veterans Programs Administrator) for the New York State Department of Labor. 

He has served as Consultant on Legislative Affairs to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), and served at various times on the VA Readadjustment Advisory Committee, the Secretary of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Veterans Employment & Training, the President’s Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities - Subcommittee on Disabled Veterans, Advisory Committee on veterans’ entrepreneurship at the Small Business Administration, and numerous other advocacy posts in veteran affairs. 

Mr. Weidman was an instructor and administrator at Johnson State College (Vermont) in the 1970s, where he was also active in community and veterans affairs. He attended Colgate University  (B.A., (1967), and did graduate study at the University of Vermont. He is married and has four children.


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