Veterans Disability:

Information From Military May Help VA Assess Claims Related to Secret Tests

NSIAD-93-89: Published: Feb 18, 1993. Publicly Released: Mar 9, 1993.

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Donna M. Heivilin
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined secret, U.S. military chemical and biological warfare research experiments that exposed service members to hazardous substances, focusing on: (1) all chemical and biological experiments conducted secretly by the military services during the past 50 years; (2) the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) handling of disability claims associated with these experiments; and (3) VA efforts to contact veterans who participated in the experiments and invite them to file claims.

GAO found that: (1) the services conducted three secret military research projects between 1942 and 1975; (2) the Navy did not maintain records for all personnel involved in mustard agent testing during World War II; (3) the Army did not keep records of its mustard agent test activities in a manner that would enable ready identification of soldiers who participated in its World War II chemical tests; (4) the Army's Medical Research and Development Command has the names and service numbers of all test participants and listings of the chemicals to which service members were exposed between 1952 and 1975; (5) prior to July 1992, a veteran had to prove that his disability was service-connected or a result of injuries or disease incurred during a period of military service, and VA disallowed many claims because veterans could not provide evidence of having been injured by mustard gas exposure; (6) veterans with specific health problems known to be associated with mustard gas exposure now only have to prove participation in the testing program; (7) VA believes that, due to the secret nature of testing, veterans might be disadvantaged in proving their entitlement to benefits; (8) VA commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to review medical and scientific literature to determine the long-term health effects of exposure to mustard gas and recommend policy changes for VA consideration; (9) a system is in place for assisting veterans tested with incapacitating agents to obtain information about their testing experiences; (10) the fact that there were few claims from participants in the Army's incapacitating agent testing may be attributable to this group's having been extensively followed; and (11) VA has conducted only one outreach effort to contact veterans who participated in secret chemical and biological experiments, and that initiative was hampered because the names of only a few of the test subjects were known.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Secretaries of the military departments are directed to provide information on the locations, chemicals tested, and dates of each chemical weapons research program. They must also identify military units involved and individuals within the units known to have participated.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Army and the Navy to aggregate and provide information to VA on their past mustard gas testing activities. The information should include the location of the tests, the dates of the tests, the units involved, the types of exposures experienced, and the names of participants to the extent they are available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD provided points of contact for each military service to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Army and the Navy to provide a point of contact for VA within each service to assist veterans in obtaining information about their test experiences.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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