2004--The U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs says it will begin contacting
veterans exposed to dangerous levels of chemicals
during World War II and will invite them to apply
for benefits if they were harmed.
The VA will work with the Pentagon
to gather current addresses, then use the
information to contact the veterans and their
families, VA spokeswoman Cynthia Church said Monday.
announcement follows a Detroit Free Press series of
articles last month that showed the VA broke a 1993
promise to Congress to directly contact veterans of
secret chemical testing, notify them of the health
risks and invite them to file claims. The Free Press
reported the VA did not send a single notification
letter to any of the thousands of veterans involved
in the testing, or their survivors.
It is unclear
how many of the veterans remain alive, six decades
after their chemical exposure. Even the youngest
ones are in their 80s. It also remains unclear how
long it will take for the VA to begin contacting
the speed of the response depends partly on how
efficiently it can compare its computer records with
those kept by the Department of Defense.
director of the VA's compensation and pension
service, said the scope of the agency's task will be
better known in about a month.
announcement intrigued 92-year-old Nellie Strauss of
Deerfield Beach, Fla. Her husband, Alfred, was
diagnosed with emphysema, chronic coughing and
congestion, chronic obstructive lung disease and
bronchitis -- ailments all linked to chemical
testing. The VA nevertheless rejected his 1993
claim. He died in 1999.
Strauss said she lost her medical coverage one year
after Alfred died and pays dearly for health care.
Anthony Principi, who has announced he is leaving
the department, declined comment this week, although
Church said he personally approved a renewed search
for chemical test subjects.
Press series chronicled the experiences of the 1st
Chemical Casual Company -- 100 soldiers exposed to
mustard gas, lewisite and other poisons in the test
chambers of Maryland's Edgewood Arsenal in 1943.
Mostly young recruits plucked from boot camp, the
men of 1st Chemical were among at least 4,000
soldiers and sailors used in secret wartime
experiments to help scientists study ways to protect
combat troops from a feared chemical attack.
misled volunteers about the danger and threatened
the men with court-martial if they revealed the
tests to anyone. The government made no effort to
monitor the men's health, even though it knew the
chemicals could pose a long-term health risk.
developed cancers and lung, eye or respiratory
diseases linked to the toxins.
Press series on chemical testing is available at
information about benefits, contact the U.S.
Department of Veterans Affairs toll-free at (800)
827-1000. The VA's Web site is