Thousands of people who may have been exposed to chemical or biological agents during military tests remain unaccounted for, and the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs have given up on tracking them down, according to a new report.
Some of the tests were conducted as part of a weapons testing program known as "Project 112." In others (click here for PDF), individuals were intentionally exposed to hazardous substances such as blister, nerve, and biological agents as well as LSD and PCP, according to a Government Accounting Office report (PDF).
Any veterans who believe they have sustained a disability from exposure during testing may file a claim (PDF) for compensation with the VA.
The DOD stopped actively searching for test subjects in 2003 "but did not provide a sound and documented basis for that decision," the GAO reported. At the time, it had identified 5,842 service members and about 350 civilians as having been potentially exposed during Project 112 alone (PDF). It is estimated that tens of thousands of military and personnel and civilians may have been exposed over the last 60 years.
However, in 2004 the GAO reported that there was still a chance that additional test subjects could be located, and it recommended that the DOD determine the feasibility of continuing the search. Instead, the Pentagon determined that it had reached "a point of diminishing returns" and called it off; a decision not supported by an "objective analysis of the potential costs and benefits of continuing the effort," the congressional agency charged.
Further, the GAO found that the Pentagon's efforts lacked oversight, clear and consistent objectives, and most of all transparency, because it had not kept Congress or veterans organizations fully informed of its progress, or lack thereof.
The DOD was pretty much an equal-opportunity employer when it came to its human test subjects--healthy adults, psychiatric patients, and prison inmates were all used. In some instances, service members who consented to serve as test subjects found themselves participating in experiments quite different from the one they had been pitched when they volunteered, according to the report.
Also known as "Project SHAD" ("Shipboard Hazard and Defense"), the highly classified Project 112 was started in 1962 to determine the vulnerability of U.S. warships to chemical and biological attacks. In this case, service members and civilians were not the test subjects, but rather conducted the tests on animals, in some cases with foreign observers present, according to the DOD. Veterans of the tests tell another story.
The same week this GAO report came out, a federal judge ruled, in dismissing a lawsuit brought by individual members of the military, that there is no reason for troops to second-guess the Food and Drug Administration when it comes to the safety of anthrax vaccinations. DOD says the shots are now mandatory. If this means you, make sure you leave a forwarding address.