Cal Maritime Academy, CA – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) was honored today for his years of work to make sure service members who were subjected to the Department of Defense’s (DOD) chemical weapon testing are able to receive full medical care and disability compensation for their service-connected medical conditions. In late 2002, the DOD revealed for the first time that between 1962 and 1974 it had tested harmful chemical and biological agents by spraying them on ships and sailors. These tests – known as Project 112, which included Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD), exposed at least 6,000 service members without their knowledge to harmful chemical and biological weapons, including some of the most deadly chemicals on Earth: Vx Nerve Gas, Sarin Nerve Gas and E. coli.
Thompson was presented his award by Cal Maritime graduate and former Senior Navy Officer Jack Alderson. Alderson commanded some of the ships used in the Project 112/SHAD experiments. He has since been diagnosed with malignant Melanoma, several types of skin cancers, prostate cancer and doctors have found four occurrences of asbestos in his lungs. As a senior officer, Alderson was notified of some military chemical tests performed on animals on his ship while he was in service. Once he started getting sick, he asked Thompson to investigate whether or not there could be a link between his health problems and Project 112/SHAD.
“It is a high honor to receive this recognition from a true American hero,” said Thompson. “I will not stop working until every veteran who was unknowingly subjected to these harmful chemical tests gets the full benefits they have earned.”
Many veterans who were subjected to chemical tests as part of Project 112/SHAD have developed serious medical issues but do not currently receive priority care from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or disability benefits because the VA does not officially recognize any long-term health consequences from exposure to the chemical agents from these specific tests.
In 2002, Thompson led Congress to direct the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to conduct a study of the health effects associated with the chemicals used during Project 112/SHAD. Numerous reports by other agencies and departments within the U.S. government, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, say exposure to these substances have long-term health consequences. However, after five years of research, the IOM study found no connection existed between the substances tested and the health problems now widely seen among known SHAD veterans. As a result, the VA does not recognize any long-term health consequences from the Project 112/SHAD tests.
The IOM has since conceded that the first study did not adequately sample the full universe of Project 112/SHAD veterans, and that the study panel could not obtain sufficient information to assess levels of exposure to specific agents. The initial study also failed to account for the job and duty assignments of various personnel on board all the ships and tugs involved in the chemical testing. Because of this, the first study failed to take into account the different levels of exposure. For instance, some personnel were exposed during training and testing to multiple weapons, experimental vaccines, trace elements, stimulants, and decontamination agents, whereas other personnel would have had limited exposure because of where they were stationed.
For these reasons, Congress passed a provision in 2010 co-authored by Thompson requiring the VA to contract with IOM for a second study considering the health impact on veterans that were part of Project 112/SHAD. If the scientific study by the IOM finds a connection between the chemical testing and long-term health consequences, the VA will likely be compelled to provide all service members exposed to this testing priority medical care and full disability compensation.
“Jack, and all the people who served with him, deserve to know the truth,” Thompson continued. “If we don’t get these service members the care they need, then how can we ask our current service members to put their lives on the line knowing that harm from the enemy may not be the only danger they encounter? Many brave men who served our country are now sick or have passed away because of Project 112’s chemical and biological testing. It is our duty to right this wrong and get our service members the care they need.”