Vietnam Vets Bring Suit, Alleging Army Used Them as Guinea Pigs
The 1990 movie Jacob’s Ladder told the story of a Vietnam veteran tortured by hallucinations that were caused by drugs he was given, without his knowledge, by the U.S. Army. Twenty-two years later, welcome to the real story.
The real-life version will play out in a federal court in California, which on Sept. 30 certified a class action of Vietnam vets who are suing the U.S. government over their exposure to biological and chemical agents they say were administered to them in secret experiments.
Led by the Vietnam Veterans Association of America (VVA) and two disabled Vietnam vets, the class is demanding not money, but an admission that the experiments did in fact happen and information on what they were given, as well as health care services to cope with the effects of the drugs. The defendants are the CIA, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Army.
Many Drugs and Chemical Agents Tested
The research programs were concentrated at Army facilities at the Edgewood Arsenal and Fort Detrick, Md. According to a press release from Morrison & Foerster, the San Francisco-based law firm that is representing the plaintiffs pro bono, more than 400 different chemical agents were administered over a period of five decades to an estimated 100,000 active duty military personnel in the United States and overseas.
The plaintiffs allege that, as soldiers, they were given drugs such as LSD, mescaline, speed, and BZ – a compound that can cause agitated delirium and hallucinations. Mustard gas, sarin, riot control agents and a version of THC (the psychoactive compound found in marijuana), as well as biological warfare agents such as anthrax and plague were also allegedly administered.
The plaintiffs also claim that none of the “volunteers” for the program gave informed consent, some experiments were conducted on unwitting participants and the testing program involved multiple violations of the Nuremberg Law. They allege they are disabled as a result of the program.
Other plaintiffs include the survivors of vets who succumbed to their illnesses. Kathryn Forrest is one of those survivors – the wife of Army Private Wray Forrest, who reportedly spent two months volunteering as a human test subject at the Edgewood facility in 1973, according to a recent CNN report.
Forrest was given Ritalin in one of the five experiments he took part in. He later suffered migraines, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and several strokes, as well as type-2 diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While he was partially released from his oath of secrecy, he was still forbidden to talk about the experiments outside of the medical care he was supposed to be receiving. He died of skin cancer in 2010.
The program was carried out in top secrecy, and the plaintiffs say they were “administered secrecy oaths” which, if broken, would result in court martial, according to the order certifying the class.
The order states that the government says it has been unable to locate any written secrecy oaths administered during either World War II or the Cold War. But the Department of Defense “has issued two memoranda releasing veterans in part or in full from secrecy oaths that they may have taken in conjunction with testing.” You know, just in case.
“If the courts rule in our favor,” said John Rowan, national president of the VVA, “this will be a huge step in the right direction in obtaining justice for veterans whose claims for disability compensation have long been denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
If you are a Vietnam vet who participated in the Edgewood programs, you can contact the VVA about the case.