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

January/February 2004

New Energy In The Fight


A re-energized task force has helped win some significant legal victories that have generated major media attention and galvanized some members of Congress to action.

The task force is now more focused on its primary mission: to pursue the truth about the testing of chemical and biological agents, simulants, tracers, and decontaminants on American military personnel--in many cases without their knowledge or consentduring the 1960s and early 1970s. The hoped-for outcome is threefold: justice for those whose health may have been compromised by their exposure to the wide variety of toxic agents, including nerve agents GB and VX and biological simulants Bacillus globigii, Serratia marcescens, and E-coli; justice for officials at the VA and Department of Defense who for years stonewalled and refused to release information that might help SHAD veterans get treatment and compensation from the VA for service-connected conditions that may have resulted from their participation in the 112/SHAD tests; and assurance that current and future members of our armed forces are not exposed unwittingly to toxic agents by our own government.

Project 112 was one of some 150 initiatives undertaken by Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. SHAD is the acronym for Shipboard Hazard and Defense.

VVA and 21 SHAD veterans are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that cites McNamara and several officials of both the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs for having participated in a decades-long cover-up of the facts. Following some mixed decisions by the court in Vietnam Veterans of America v. McNamaramixed because the judge ruled some months ago to remove VA officials as defendantsour attorneys, Doug Rosinski and David Cynamon of the Washington, D.C., law firm Shaw Pittman, hit a home run.

The court permitted the deposition of the 77-year-old former technical director of the SHAD program, J. Clifton Spendlove. His testimony in Decemberdespite some lapses in memory of events that occurred some 40 years agowas open and forthright. He acknowledged that "boat drivers" were, in fact, exposed to chemical and biological substances during some four dozen SHAD tests. His testimony torpedoed DoD contentions that it had thoroughly investigated and found little about which to be alarmed.

With the release of the transcript of the deposition testimony in early January, VVA President Tom Corey sent a letter to key members of the Senate and House, calling on Congress to begin an investigation of the continuing cover-up. At the heart of the issue is that the military has been investigating its own misconduct.

"Dr. Spendlove’s testimony demonstrates that the DoD’s investigation is, at best, inadequate, and, at worst, fraudulent and leaves absolutely no doubt that military veterans were used as 'human samplers' without their knowledge or consent and are victims of our own 'weapons of mass destruction' test program," Corey wrote.

He called on Congress to:
  • demand that the responsible Pentagon agency grant immediate and unfettered access to all Project 112/SHAD information in its possession and release all information found to be medically relevant by SHAD veterans’ representatives
  • convene hearings on the conduct of DoD's SHAD investigation and demand that all officials explain their seemingly complicit actions and inactions
  • demand accountability from those determined to have improperly conducted themselves as government officials, "including resignation and termination if appropriate"
  • require the VA and the Institute of Medicine to review the "dose to humans" data whenever obtained and consider this information in evaluating potential service-connected health effects
  • review congressional oversight to Pentagon officials who "failed to prevent or uncover such long-standing abuses."
  • "Action must be taken now," Corey said. "Veterans have the right to know what they were exposed to whether or not DoD believes it is harmful. DoD officials have forfeited the right to decide what is relevant to SHAD veterans."
  • Reaction to Corey’s letter and revelations of Spendlove’s testimony were swift in coming. David Goldstein of the Kansas City Star wrote the first major article. He was quickly followed by John Ryan in the Daily Journal and Robert Gehrke of the Associated Press. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who has been in the forefront of the effort to uncover the truth about 112/SHAD, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld asking for an immediate briefing about 112/SHAD files that the Pentagon has kept under wraps and asking when these files will be made available to Congress and the American public.

    Previously, Congress passed a bill introduced by Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) that authorizes the VA to provide veterans who participated in the chemical and biological tests higher priority for medical treatment and nursing home care without any requirement of proof of service-connection through December 31, 2005. The law now embraces what VA Secretary Anthony Principi had already ordered.


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