WASHINGTON (–While U.S. officials are quick to accuse Iraqi leaders of “using chemical weapons on their own people,” thousands of U.S. Vietnam veterans have joined an unprecedented class action lawsuit because they were unknowingly exposed to hazardous biological, chemical, and possibly radioactive agents during secret weapons tests during the 1960s and 1970s.

“Veterans deserve to be told the truth about their military service, as well as accountability from senior bureaucrats and other government officials,” said Thomas Corey, national president of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), in a statement announcing his group’s participation in an ongoing federal class action lawsuit.

The court case seeks redress for the consequences of unknowing exposure of military personnel to hazardous agents during two of the government’s secret weapons testing programs.


“America’s veterans deserve proper health care for illnesses that may be due to exposure to harmful agents as a result of their military service,” said Mr. Corey, concerning “Project S.H.A.D.” (Shipboard Hazard and Defense), which was part of a much larger weapons testing program called “Project 112.”

The programs involved the intentional exposure of U.S. military personnel in order to determine the vulnerability of naval vessels to such attacks. Similar tests were also conducted on land. The tests have resulted in illness and disability for which the government has only begun to respond, according to VVA.

Lynda Van Devanter Buckley, a surgical nurse and an advocate for women veterans, is one victim who attributed the systemic collagen vascular disease, to which she succumbed at her home near Washington on Nov. 15, to her routine exposure to a combination of chemical agents and pesticides, not specifically related to these weapons tests.

In “Home Before Morning,” her influential 1983 memoir about her time as a surgical nurse near the Cambodia border, she painted a stark picture of the horrors of the Vietnam war and its psychological aftermath.

“This is now the seventh month of death, destruction and misery,” she wrote in one passage. “I’m tired of going to sleep listening to outgoing and incoming rockets, mortars and artillery. I’m sick of facing, every day, a new bunch of children ripped to pieces.”

The class action suit over projects “S.H.A.D.” and “112” are based upon alleged attempts to conceal and ignore relevant records, many of which are the veterans’ own personal medical records that would allow them to seek health care and compensation for the adverse effects of being test subjects, according to VVA.

“This is yet another example of past dirty secrets being revealed about what the United States government has been willing to do to prepare for war, even if it means endangering the lives of U.S. citizens in their role as unwitting guinea pigs,” Damu Smith, one of the founders of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, told The Final Call. “There are going to be a lot more dirty secrets like this revealed.

“It must be condemned, it must be further investigated, so that we can uncover not only what the government did in this instance, but we can continue to uncover more of the deception and lies and crimes the U.S. government and military have committed against our own service

men and women,” said Mr. Smith.

The suit names former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, who first ordered the testing program in the early 1960s, as well as other current and former employees at the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The problem has been that certain individuals have been acting in their own interests, rather than serving the military personnel and veterans to whom this country owes so much,” said Mr. Corey.