Vets used as human guinea pigs

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Courtesy of CNN.com:

Programming note: Join CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta for more from his investigative report on U.S. soldiers used as drug test subjects. Watch “CNN Presents,” this Sunday night at 8 and 11 ET/PT.

(CNN) — 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.

Soldier drug ‘guinea pigs’ sue the V.A.

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.

In 1968, Tim Josephs was told he would be testing gas masks, boots and other clothing, he said.

Read the confidential (now unclassified) Army document uncovering LSD tests on volunteers (PDF)

This top secret Cold War research program initially looked for ways to defend against a chemical or biological attack by the Soviet Union, thought to be far ahead of the United States in “psycho-chemical” warfare. But the research expanded into offensive chemical weapons, including one that could, according to one Army film obtained by CNN, deliver a “veritable chemical ambush” against an enemy.

“This incapacitating agent would be dispersed by standard munitions, and the agent would enter the building through all nonprotected openings,” the film’s narrator boasts.

President Nixon ended research into offensive chemical weapons in 1969, and the military no longer uses human subjects in research on chemical agents, said a spokesman for Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, as the facility is known now.

Tests began for Josephs almost as soon as he arrived at Edgewood for a two-month assignment on January 1, 1968.

“Sometimes it was an injection. Other times it was a pill,” Josephs told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Josephs said he didn’t know what drugs he was getting. “A lot of chemicals were referred to as agent one or agent two.”

Some weeks, he would undergo one test; other weeks, more, Josephs said. And when he questioned the staff about whether he was in any danger, they reassured him: “There is nothing here that could ever harm you.”

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“They want to use young men as guinea pigs and throw them away,” said Josephs, now 63.

But Josephs, 63, believes the chemical agents he received during his two-month stint at Edgewood did harm him, triggering health problems that continue to plague him four decades later. Even when he talks about Edgewood, he said, “I get a tightness in my chest.”

Parkinson’s symptoms

Days before his Edgewood duty ended, in February 1968, Josephs was hospitalized for days with Parkinson’s-like tremors, symptoms he said have followed him on and off throughout his adult life.

From Edgewood, Josephs said he went to an Army installation in Georgia, where he experienced tremors so severe, he had to be admitted to the base hospital and given muscle relaxers. The Army then sent Josephs to Air Force bases in Thailand, in support of the war effort in Vietnam. He was told never to talk about his experiences at Edgewood and to forget about everything he ever did, said or heard at the Maryland base.

Josephs left he service when his three-year tour ended, and he began a career as a real estate agent. He married Michelle, a nurse, in 1977, but the couple decided not to have children, fearing his chemical exposure might somehow affect them.

In his mid-50s, Josephs was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition that forced him to retire early. Medications cost $2,000 a month, which he was paying for out of pocket.

Josephs applied for veterans benefits based on chemical exposure at Edgewood. Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs granted him partial benefits for his Parkinson’s for Agent Orange exposure during his time in Thailand, giving Josephs 40% disability. The letter granting him benefits made no mention of Edgewood.

Josephs says he now takes two dozen pills daily. His symptoms vary from day to day. Sometimes, he has trouble swallowing. Other times, he experiences numbness in his joints or or tremors. He says he tires easily.

He blames his time at Edgewood for all this, and he has joined a lawsuit on behalf of Edgewood veterans seeking medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Read the lawsuit complaint document (PDF)

… They gave him such high doses that he … in the vernacular, he flipped out. Gordon Erspamer, lead attorney in suit against VA

Gordon Erspamer, lead attorney in the suit, has reviewed the partial Edgewood medical records that Josephs was able to obtain with the help of his wife. Erspamer said Josephs probably received an injection of sarin or another nerve gas, because the records show that he received the drug P2S on February 1, 1968, to treat “organophosphate poisoning.”

During experiments that began on February 19, 1968, Josephs experienced Parkinson’s-like tremors after receiving Prolixin, an antipsychotic medication, Erspamer said, prompting the Edgewood medical staff to give the young soldier Congentin and Artane, two drugs used to treat Parkinson’s symptoms.

Erspamer said he sees a connection between Josephs’ Parkinson’s disease and the drugs he received at Edgewood.

“Those substances affect the same region of the brain,” Erspamer said. “Tim clearly had adverse health effects because they gave him such high doses that he ranged from overdose with one substance to the antidote, back and forth, and he actually had to get … a very powerful antipsychotic drug because, in the vernacular, he flipped out.”

In addition to medical benefits, the lawsuit is asking that the Defense Department and Department of Veteran Affairs find all Edgewood veterans and provide them with details of the chemicals they received and their possible health effects.

Veterans who became Army guinea pigs for secret drug and chemical experiments are suing the VA, the CIA and the Defense Department. In this U.S. government photo, Wray Forrest is seen on the far right in 1973 while participating in the program at Maryland's Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center.Veterans who became Army guinea pigs for secret drug and chemical experiments are suing the VA, the CIA and the Defense Department. In this U.S. government photo, Wray Forrest is seen on the far right in 1973 while participating in the program at Maryland’s Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center.
Forrest spent decades fighting post traumatic stress disorder, which he said the VA had linked to his time at Edgewood. Forrest, a heavy smoker most of his life, was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2009 and died in 2010. His doctor said some of Forrest's health problems could have been caused by chemicals used at Edgewood.Forrest spent decades fighting post traumatic stress disorder, which he said the VA had linked to his time at Edgewood. Forrest, a heavy smoker most of his life, was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2009 and died in 2010. His doctor said some of Forrest’s health problems could have been caused by chemicals used at Edgewood.
Tim Josephs joined the Army right out of high school and entered Edgewood for two months in 1968. He says he was told at first he would be testing gas masks and clothing.Tim Josephs joined the Army right out of high school and entered Edgewood for two months in 1968. He says he was told at first he would be testing gas masks and clothing.
Josephs, now 63, was diagnosed in his 50s with Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurological condition that he says forced him to retire early from his job as a realtor. His doctor says he suffered two small strokes, according to a plaintiffs' lawsuit against the VA. Josephs blames his experiences at Edgewood for the strokes and the Parkinson's.Josephs, now 63, was diagnosed in his 50s with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition that he says forced him to retire early from his job as a realtor. His doctor says he suffered two small strokes, according to a plaintiffs’ lawsuit against the VA. Josephs blames his experiences at Edgewood for the strokes and the Parkinson’s.
Bill Blazinski was drafted into the Army and also spent two months at Edgewood in 1968. In one test, he said, electrodes were attached to him and "electrical charges ran through his body, causing pain like pinpricks," according to the plaintiff's' lawsuit against the VA.Bill Blazinski was drafted into the Army and also spent two months at Edgewood in 1968. In one test, he said, electrodes were attached to him and “electrical charges ran through his body, causing pain like pinpricks,” according to the plaintiff’s’ lawsuit against the VA.
Blazinski, now 64, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and ulcerative colitis in 2008. He applied for VA disability benefits, but was denied, according to the plaintiffs' lawsuit.Blazinski, now 64, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and ulcerative colitis in 2008. He applied for VA disability benefits, but was denied, according to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit.
Drafted by the Army in 1968 at age 20, Frank Rochelle also was at Edgewood for two months. During one drug test, Rochelle said, he thought that his freckles were bugs under his skin. He used a razor to try to cut them out, injuring himself. Later, Rochelle was deployed to fight in the Vietnam War.Drafted by the Army in 1968 at age 20, Frank Rochelle also was at Edgewood for two months. During one drug test, Rochelle said, he thought that his freckles were bugs under his skin. He used a razor to try to cut them out, injuring himself. Later, Rochelle was deployed to fight in the Vietnam War.
"I have breathing problems," said Rochelle, now age 63. "I still have problems getting around, getting along with people, nervousness and sleep apnea." According to the plaintiff's lawsuit, Rochelle's "medical problems have worsened and his health has deteriorated," and he is "no longer able to work the job that he held for over 28 years."“I have breathing problems,” said Rochelle, now age 63. “I still have problems getting around, getting along with people, nervousness and sleep apnea.” According to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, Rochelle’s “medical problems have worsened and his health has deteriorated,” and he is “no longer able to work the job that he held for over 28 years.”
Before & after: Wray Forrest, 1973
Wray Forrest, 2008
Tim Josephs: 1968
Tim Josephs: 2012
Bill Blazinski: 1967
Bill Blazinski: 2012
Frank Rochelle: 1969
Frank Rochelle: 2012
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Army guinea pigs: Before and afterArmy guinea pigs: Before and after

Erspamer said the government has reached very few of the 7,000 or so Edgewood veterans, and the VA has turned down almost all Edgewood-related health claims. Court documents show that the Veterans Benefits Administration rejected 84 of 86 health claims related to chemical or biological exposure.

“The whole thing stinks, and if the American people knew about it, they would not tolerate it. This kind of behavior toward our veterans would not be allowed to happen,” Erspamer said.

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.”

[The VA] has made it a priority to identify all service members exposed to chemical and biological substances. Department of Defense statement

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.”

Josephs enlisted in the military fresh out of high school — at the height of the Vietnam War.

“I really felt a duty to my country to go and serve,” he said. “Things were different back then. You believed in your government. And you just wouldn’t think they would give you something that would harm you intentionally.”

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