December 19

The Veterans Affairs Website: A Source for Disinformation about Unethical Experiments

The Veterans Affairs website demonstrates that the agency is a source for disinformation about unethical medical experiments conducted on military personnel. It states:

From 1955 to 1975, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps conducted classified medical studies at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. The purpose was to evaluate the impact of low-dose chemical warfare agents on military personnel and to test protective clothing and pharmaceuticals. About 7,000 soldiers took part in these experiments that involved exposures to more than 250 different chemicals, according to the Department of Defense (DoD).

The National Academies of Science (NAS) [i.e., IOM] reviewed the potential for long-term health effects from these experiments and did not find any significant long-term physical harm, except for some Veterans exposed to larger doses of mustard agents. [emphasis added]

In fact, the Report by the Institute of Medicine states:

The evidence found indicated a causal relationship between exposure and the following health conditions: Respiratory cancers: Nasopharyngeal, Laryngeal, Lung; Skin cancer: Pigmentation abnormalities, Chronic skin ulceration and scar formation; Leukemia (typically acute nonlymphocytic type); Chronic respiratory diseases; Asthma; Chronic bronchitis; Emphysema; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Chronic laryngitis; Recurrent corneal ulcerative disease (Includes corneal opacities; acute severe injuries to eye from Lewisite will also persist.); Bone marrow depression and (resulting) immunosuppression (An acute effect that may result in greater susceptibility to serious infections with secondary permanent damage to vital organ systems.); Psychological disorders; Mood disorders; Anxiety disorders (including post-traumatic stress disorder); Sexual dysfunction (Scrotal and penile scarring may prevent or inhibit normal sexual performance or activity.)

There is no doubt that the long-term health consequences of exposure to mustard agents or Lewisite can be serious and, in some cases, devastating. This report has demonstrated that complete knowledge of these long-term consequences has been and still is sorely lacking, resulting in great costs to some of those exposed in WWII.

The IOM report was a catalyst for numerous examinations of the available evidence about the magnitude of harm, but little action on behalf of the injured veterans:

This committee discovered that an atmosphere of secrecy still exists to some extent regarding the WWII testing programs. Although many documents pertaining to the WWII testing programs were declassified shortly after the war ended, others were not. Of those declassified, many remained “restricted” to the present day and, therefore, not released to the public. As a result, the committee often had great difficulty obtaining information. (IOM. Veterans at Risk, 1993)

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