Vets feel abandoned after secret drug experiments
The moment 18-year-old Army Pvt. Tim Josephs arrived at Edgewood Arsenal in 1968, he knew there was something different about the place.
"It just did not look like a military base, more like a hospital," recalled Josephs, a Pittsburgh native. Josephs had volunteered for a two-month assignment at Edgewood, in Maryland, lured by three-day weekends closer to home.
"It was like a plum assignment," Josephs said. "The idea was they would test new Army field jackets, clothing, weapons and things of that nature, but no mention of drugs or chemicals."
But when he went to fill out paperwork the morning after his arrival, the base personnel were wearing white lab coats, and Josephs said he had second thoughts. An officer took him aside.
"He said, 'You volunteered for this. You're going to do it. If you don't, you're going to jail. You're going to Vietnam either way -- before or after,'" Josephs said recently.
From 1955 to 1975, military researchers at Edgewood were using not only animals but human subjects to test a witches' brew of drugs and chemicals. They ranged from potentially lethal nerve gases like VX and sarin to incapacitating agents like BZ.
Read the secret (now unclassified) Army document revealing BZ tests on soldiers (PDF)
The military also tested tear gas, barbiturates, tranquilizers, narcotics and hallucinogens like LSD.
Read the confidential (now unclassified) Army document uncovering LSD tests on volunteers (PDF)I can't say I'm surprised, but I'm really disappointed that the V.A. has to be forever dragged kicking and screaming into litigation to start doing things for veterans.Josephs has not received any health benefits related to his time as a human test subject at Edgewood.
"They're hoping we die off, so you apply [for benefits], you get turned down," Josephs said. "And it just goes on for years and years, and they just want to wear us down. They want to use young men as guinea pigs and throw them away."
The Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs declined face-to-face interviews with CNN, citing pending litigation. In a statement, the Defense Department said that it "has made it a priority to identify all service members exposed to chemical and biological substances ... and the VA has contacted and offered free medical evaluations to thousands of veterans."
Josephs received his letter from the VA in 2008, four decades after he arrived at the Maryland base.
"In order to best serve veterans and their families, VA continues to study the possibility of long-term health effects associated with in-service exposure to chemical and biological weapons," the letter promised.
At the Army's request, The Institute of Medicine, an independent nonprofit organization that is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, produced a three-volume report in the 1980s on the long-term health of Edgewood veterans. The IOM decided in the end there wasn't enough information to reach "definitive conclusions."