2012: Lawsuit on Behalf of 100,000 Veterans Proceeds

In 2012, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in California ruled that a class action lawsuit on behalf of 100,000 veterans, who were used as guinea pigs to test hundreds of drugs, can proceed. The suit seeks to lift the oath of secrecy soldiers say they swore about what they went through, and asks the court to compel the government to provide the health care it promised subjects when they participated in the tests. It does not ask for monetary damages because the government is immune from most damage claims brought by military personnel. Defendants in the case are the Department of Defense, the Army, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the CIA. These agencies had collaborated in planning and implementing the tests. The plaintiffs in the case have uncovered documents indicating veterans were exposed to mustard gas, Sarin, phosgene gas, Thorazine, LSD, amphetamines, barbiturates and other agents — sometimes at 10 or more times known tolerance. The government’s response to the lawsuit was to claim that the experiments did not cause long-term problems. The judge in the case said the government’s own documents indicate otherwise (Class-Action Lawsuit, News Observer, 2012).

July 24, 2013: A decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken was a limited victory for veterans’ organizations, who had argued that the VA health care system is overburdened and inadequate for the needs of those veterans, and that the government should pay their private medical bills. Under binding government regulations, Judge Claudia Wilken said “the Army has an ongoing duty … to provide test subjects with newly acquired information that may affect their well-being.” (Egelko. San Francisco Chronicle, July 25, 2013)