By Erica Werner, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — The Veterans Affairs Department has granted only 6 percent of health claims filed by veterans of secret Cold War chemical and germ warfare tests conducted by the Pentagon, according to figures obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
Veterans advocates called the number appallingly low.
By comparison, about 88 percent of processed claims from Gulf War vets were granted as of last year, according to VA documents. More than 90 percent of processed claims from Iraq and Afghanistan vets were granted as of earlier this year.
In a statement the VA said it was "incorrect" to make such comparisons because of the unique circumstances of different groups of veterans.
The VA noted that most of the veterans of the chemical and germ tests ended their service more than three decades ago and a study by the advisory Institute of Medicine -- dismissed by veterans as shoddily done -- found no clear connection between the tests and the cancer, respiratory illnesses and other problems the veterans are now having.
During the tests thousands of service members were exposed, often without their knowledge, to real and simulated chemical and biological agents, including sarin and VX.
The tests were conducted at sea and above a half-dozen U.S. states from 1962-1973 to see how U.S. ships would withstand chemical and germ assaults and how such weapons would disperse.
The Defense Department says 6,440 service members took part in the experiments called Project 112 and Project SHAD, and 4,438 veterans have been notified of their participation. Others could not be located or have died.
As of May, the VA had processed 641 claims filed by veterans of the tests. Thirty-nine of the claims were granted, 56 were pending and 546 were denied.
AP obtained the figures from the VA on Thursday following a congressional hearing on the issue last week.
"These numbers are shocking, disgraceful and disappointing and reflect poorly on VA," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense.
"This is ridiculous," said Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. "These guys were there. They all have cancer. Take care of them."
The VA's statement said that some of the SHAD/112 veterans who filed claims were already getting benefits for other service-connected conditions. "The service of most of these veterans ended more than 30 years ago, and their service medical records do not reflect treatment for currently claimed conditions," the statement said.
Filner's committee last week held a hearing on legislation by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., that would grant coverage to project veterans without them having to prove a link between their problems and their participation in Projects SHAD/112.
The bill is patterned after legislation passed in 1991 to help people exposed to Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used by U.S. forces in Vietnam that was linked to cancer and other ailments
Filner said he hoped to vote the bill out of his committee by July 4.
The VA and Pentagon both oppose the bill, arguing that there's no clear scientific evidence supporting a need for it.
The Pentagon only began to disclose details of the tests publicly in 2001, after pressure from veterans and lawmakers. Two years later Defense officials stopped looking for additional project participants, despite criticism from the Government Accountability Office, which said untold numbers of veterans and civilians could remain unaware of their potential exposure.
Low approval rate for vets' chemical tests
This article is 2 years old, the sad thing is the approval rate for these veterans or their widows has not improved since then, we have been told many times over the decades that it was going to be corrected, that DOD would notify the veterans and the widows that the VA was notified that the veterans were exposed the substance or substances they had been exposed and that they can now file compensation claims with the VA, the first time was in 1976, again in 1994, 2001, in 2004 Donald Rumsfeld told a senate hearing that the VA would have the names again in early 2009, right after the Bush Administration left office, and now we are being told it will be sometime in 2011, the first exposures were in 1941 and the last in 1975 these veterans and their widows are dying since they have never done indepth study of the SHAD/112 veterans they don't know the death and disability rate but the last study of the Edgewood veterans in March 2003 compiled by the IOM shows a death and disability rate of 75% for the veterans then aged 45-65 they would now be 55-75 a decade later there were 3098 known deaths by FY 2000 when the data was gathered for the March 2003 Sarin study, so it is more likely than not that the death rate has climbed in the past 10 years. These rates of death and disability far exceed the ratios that the Social Security Administration states is normal for men aged 65.
It's time for the truth and for justice to be done for these veterans and their families........
Saturday, June 19, 2010
By Erica Werner, Associated Press Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Weapons are common catch, fishermen say
By Peter Schworm and Beth Daley
Globe Staff / June 9, 2010
NEW BEDFORD — In a bizarre incident that spotlights the vast amount of chemical weapons and munitions debris littering the ocean floor, a crewman aboard a clamming boat remained hospitalized yesterday for exposure to mustard gas after his vessel dredged up World War I-era munition shells.
Konstantin Burndshov sustained burns and blisters on an arm and leg and was sickened after handling a shell that had been hauled aboard the ESS Pursuit on Sunday in waters off Long Island, New York. The incident probably marks the first civilian exposure to the chemical warfare agent in the United States in decades, said Edward W. Boyer, a medical toxicologist who is leading the team treating Burndshov.
Burndshov, a New Jersey resident, remained hospitalized last night at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, but is expected to make a full recovery, according to Boyer. Three other crew members suffered milder symptoms and were treated in New Bedford and released.
Crew member Kevin O’Sullivan said Burndshov, who was wearing rubber oil skins and rubber gloves, was injured after throwing a bullet-shaped canister overboard, after the crew discovered it among a catch of clams. He said the canister smelled strange.
“It was just a strong chemical odor that didn’t seem right,’’ he said.
For decades, the military used the waters off the United States as a dumping ground for surplus or outdated weapons. With the ocean seemingly bottomless and far from people, it was considered a prudent way to get rid of old bombs and other weapons.
But today, as fishermen chase catches in deeper waters, encounters with the remnants of past wars have become more common, some fishermen say.
Clamming boats are particularly prone to hauling up munitions because their gear stirs up the seabed. Last month, for example, workers sorting clams at a New Bedford plant discovered nearly 200 hand grenades.
The clammers of the ESS Pursuit, which operates out of Atlantic City, were exposed to the mustard gas when canisters appeared on the boat’s conveyor belt. The captain, Kieran Kelly, said in a telephone interview from aboard the vessel that one canister had broken open. Burndshov was exposed, and other crew members experienced breathing difficulties and eye irritation.
The boat brought the sick men in to New Bedford, where the vessel was scheduled to unload its catch, about 24 hours later. Dave Little, 32, a commercial fisherman from New Hampshire, helped unload the boat Monday, and joined the crew as it pushed back out to sea, unaware the boat was contaminated.
About five hours later, when the boat was about 20 miles out, the Coast Guard called it back to port. “If they hadn’t turned us around, we’d still be out there,’’ said Little, who experienced some irritation around his eyes and mouth from the exposure.
The ESS Pursuit remained in isolation yesterday, moored off New Bedford and flanked by Coast Guard vessels as officials developed a decontamination plan. Tests on the boat revealed the presence of blister agents, a group of chemicals that includes mustard gas.
Mustard gas, used infrequently after World War I, was intended to disable enemies because the gas would get on skin and cause large, raised blisters. It was not designed as a killing agent, although it can cause death if inhaled. It is also persistent, remaining in the environment and on surfaces for days.
“That is what is stunning to everyone; it is still potent now,’’ said Boyer, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan is leading the effort to figure out what to do with the boat’s catch of thousands of pounds of clams.
Even though a state hazardous materials unit and bomb squad determined that no mustard gas or chemical agents had seeped into the clams, the state has ordered them destroyed. The catch, 168 containers, each containing 80 bushels of clams, must be disposed of.
Coan said the state has never had to dispose of so much shellfish before. A team will meet this week to develop a plan to do this safely and properly, he said. “The Commonwealth has declared that the catch cannot be sold and will not be sold,’’ Coan said.
Fishermen in New Bedford said they often find discarded munitions at sea, but that they are typically harmless. “It’s pretty routine,’’ O’Sullivan said. “We throw them overboard as quick as possible.’’
Little said old weapons often turn up in the dredge, which digs several inches into the ocean floor. The weapons are shaken violently in the sorting process on board, and Little said he worries some day one will explode.
Massachusetts fishermen and even beachgoers occasionally come across unexploded ordnance on Cape Cod and Island beaches, or near shore areas, because those areas were once used as practice ranges by the military. There are also former dumping grounds off Massachusetts, including a region often called the Foul Area, which had been used to dump radioactive and toxic waste until the 1970s.
“More experienced fishermen know to steer clear of dumping sites where drums of nuclear waste were found, but once in a while people pick up all kinds of crazy things,’’ said Angela Sanfilippo, president of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association.
Most of the dumping took place after World War I, World War II, and from 1950 to 1970, said David Foster, an Army spokesman.
In 1972, Congress prohibited the disposal of chemical munitions at sea, and international treaties soon followed suit.
“The bottom line is the sea disposal of chemical and conventional munitions was an acceptable practice up until 1972,’’ Foster said.
Bill Greene and John M. Guilfoil of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents Constance Lindner and Shana Wickett contributed to this report. Beth Daley can be reached at email@example.com.
reprinted with the permission of Beth Daley
Sunday, June 13, 2010
VVA Calls for Support of the Decision by VA Secretary
To Declare Presumptive Agent Orange/Dioxin and
VVA Calls on the President and Congress to Fund Research Now, And Not
Wait for an Army to Die
( WASHINGTON , D.C. ) There have been reports in the media recently in
which some, including Senator Jim Webb, seem to question the
legitimacy of service-connected disability compensation for exposure
to Agent Orange/Dioxin on the battlefield, such as Type II diabetes
mellitus and ischemic heart disease. Further, it appears that there is
confusion on the part of some about how the process established by the
Agent Orange Act of 1991 should and does work.
The facts of the matter are so clear that, after deliberation, Vietnam
Veterans of America (VVA) restates our position which is dictated by
those clear facts:
First, Public Law 102-4, the Agent Orange Act of 1991, was enacted to
address a plethora of health issues in veterans that stemmed from our
exposure to Agent Orange while serving in-country. Congress, in its
collective wisdom, passed this legislation because of the severe
impact exposure to dioxin was wreaking on the lives of tens of
thousands of veterans.
Senator Webb is mistaken about the intent of the law, which is
understandable, because Webb was not in the Congress at that time. By
the same token, no Senator or Member of Congress suggested, at the
time of passage, that there should be any arbitrary or artificial
limit placed on diseases covered, or on the numbers of veterans who
might be affected, and, hence, covered. Rather, a process was set up
to seek the level of association, if any, between exposure and the
onset of specific diseases. Just as no one today would even think that
we, as a nation, would cease treating and compensating our troops and
veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), simply because
the incidence is far more prevalent among returning warriors than
anyone might have imagined five years ago.
Second, we strongly support the actions of VA Secretary Eric K.
Shinseki in following both the letter and the spirit of Public Law
102-4, to conclude that the evidence analyzed by a distinguished panel
from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and
published in the 2008 Biennial Review of Veterans and Agent Orange:
Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam was compelling enough to
declare Parkinson’s disease, B cell leukemias, and ischemic heart
disease as service-connected presumptive due to Agent Orange for those
in the military who served in Vietnam (and along the demilitarized
zone in Korea in 1968 and 1969).
Third, VVA can unequivocally state that the process set up by Congress
under the Agent Orange Act continues to be the most objective and
valid way of making decisions regarding environmental diseases of
military service. These decisions should be scientific, not political.
Any Secretary of the VA should adhere to the process, required by law,
and follow the facts, as Secretary Shinseki has done.
Fourth, the evidence for inclusion of diabetes mellitus type II as a
presumptive disease is very strong. It is true that people are more
prone to develop type II diabetes as they age, but the facts of the
matter are that Vietnam veterans are at least more than twice as
likely to develop this disease as the non-veterans in our cohort
group, when balanced for age, weight, exercise, and diet. The same is
true of prostate cancer and other service-connected presumptive
This points, yet again, to the need for federal funding of additional
research into the adverse health impacts on Vietnam veterans, on our
children, and on our grandchildren, by respected independent
scientific entities outside of the VA. This is just as evident today
as it was twenty years ago. The clear need for such research is even
more pressing today, given the number of Vietnam veterans who have
died well before their time in the last twenty years, and the number
who are continuing to die early because of the ravages resulting from
exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin in Southeast Asia.
Lastly, there have been media reports that the amendment to Emergency
Supplemental Appropriation by Senator Webb would delay the process,
and thus delay the payment of justly due back compensation to affected
veterans, pushing off the time when veterans who are owed back
compensation actually will receive their entitled compensation. This
simply is not the case. Neither action by Senator Webb nor anyone else
has thus far caused any action that will slow down the payment of
claims as soon as the VA can work though the public rule-making
process to get this accomplished.
We urge all affected Vietnam veterans and eligible surviving
dependents to file claims for the newly presumptive diseases
associated with Agent Orange: Parkinson’s disease, B Cell leukemias,
and ischemic heart disease. These diseases bring the total to 14
illness categories that entitle Vietnam veterans–and veterans who
served along the demilitarized zone in Korea in 1968 and 1969–to
health care and disability compensation. VVA also contends that many
Vietnam-era veterans were also exposed in their service elsewhere in
Southeast Asia during the war, including in Thailand and Laos , and
aboard Navy vessels off the coast of Vietnam , as well as certain
military bases located in the continental U.S. and its territories.
Among the other diseases recognized by the VA as presumptive to
exposure to Agent Orange are diabetes mellitus (Type 2), non-Hodgkin’s
lymphoma, prostate cancer, and respiratory cancers (of the lung,
bronchus, larynx, or trachea). Additional information about these and
other presumptive diseases and long-term health care risks for
veterans can be found at the Veterans Health Council web site,
www.veteranshealth.org, and in the VVA Self-help Guide to Service-
Connected Disability Compensation For Exposure to Agent Orange at
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