Friday, February 29, 2008

Forgotten and ignored

Forgotten Veterans still being ignored by DOD and the VA

Has military done enough to find, notify test victims?
By Lee Davidson
Deseret Morning News
Published: Friday, Feb. 29, 2008 12:18 a.m. MST
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Congressional researchers said Thursday the Defense Department has not done enough to find and contact people who were likely exposed to old chemical and germ warfare tests overseen by Utah-based Army scientists.
The U.S. General Accountability Office, a research arm of Congress, wrote that until such efforts improve, "Congress, veterans, and the public may continue to question the completeness and accuracy of DOD's (Department of Defense) efforts."

The GAO said the Defense Department stopped efforts in 2003 to identify people who may have been exposed to "Project 112" chemical and biological warfare tests. The military said then that efforts were as complete as possible, but that it would follow any new leads that might arise.

But the GAO now says the military has not fully justified that decision, nor has it apparently used all resources possible. Also, only about half of the 6,000 or so soldiers identified have actually been contacted with warnings. And the GAO said the military has not tried to contact civilians exposed in tests while focusing on soldiers.

The Deseret Morning News first disclosed that series of tests in 1995 — through use of the Freedom of Information Act. That happened when the newspaper's help was sought by sailors who participated in an at-sea subset of tests called Project SHAD (for Shipboard Hazard and Defense), that sprayed ships with chemical and germ warfare agents.

They had blamed cancer and other illnesses on the tests, but the Veterans Affairs Department had denied their claims because the Army said such tests had never occurred.
Despite the newspaper obtaining reports and plans of some of those tests designed by scientists at Utah's Dugway Proving Ground, the Pentagon continued for years to deny the tests had occurred.

After pressure from the national media, Congress, the VA and test participants, the Pentagon said in 2002 that research showed such tests had occurred and were overseen by the old Deseret Test Center (that had been based at Dugway and Ft. Douglas). It later identified about 6,000 people who may have been exposed to germ and chemical warfare agents in those tests.

The GAO said Thursday that the military "has yet to provide a sound and documented basis" for its 2003 decision to stop searching for more potential victims. The GAO said it had previously complained that not all possible resources had been exhausted, but said the Pentagon had recertified its decision to suspend efforts saying they had reached a point of diminishing returns.

The GAO said since the Pentagon stopped its efforts to find victims, the Institute of Medicine identified 394 more through research it was conducting; inquiries by another 165 veterans later showed they were participants; and research by GAO itself found another 39 names.

The GAO said Congress may want to order the Pentagon to do a formal cost-benefit analysis about conducting more research to find victims, and to require documentation for its decision, to ensure all potentially fruitful work is considered.

In written comments, the Pentagon disagreed. "To date, DOD has received no credible leads that would allow DOD to continue its research. Thus, DOD sees no advantage to conducting a cost-benefits analysis four years after informing Congress of its plans."

Meanwhile, the GAO also complained, "DOD has not taken any action to notify approximately 1,900 civilians who were potentially exposed during chemical or biological tests. DOD officials told us they have primarily focused on service members since the primary impetus for research has been requests for information from VA."

The GAO also complained that VA may not have done enough to contact the people identified by the Pentagon. The GAO said the VA has only been able to contact (or verify as deceased) 48 percent of those identified.

But the GAO said the VA was using credit bureau databases as a source for contact information. It said the VA had not used potential resources from the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration to find and warn those people, or verify that they are deceased.

The GAO concluded about potential victims, "As this population becomes older, it will become more imperative for DOD and VA to identify and notify these individuals in a timely manner because they might be eligible for health care or other benefits."


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