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
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.
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
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
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
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.