VA Must Disclose Veteran Drug Test Documents

July 23, 2012

23 Jul (Courthouse News Services) – Veterans won another court order requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to hand over more documents about its Cold War-era drug experiments on thousands of Vietnam veterans.  U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in Oakland, Calif., said the documents requested were “squarely relevant” to the claim that the government failed to adequately notify veterans of the chemicals they were exposed to and what that exposure might do to their health.

The Army and the CIA, with the help of Nazi scientists, used at least 7,800 veterans as human guinea pigs for testing the effects of up to 400 types of drugs and chemicals, including mescaline, LSD, amphetamines, barbituates, mustard gas and nerve agents, the Vietnam Veterans of America and individual soldiers claim in a 2009 class action.

The government covered up the true nature of its experiments, which began in the 1950s under code names such as “Bluebird,” “Artichoke” and “MKUltra.”

In “Project Paperclip,” the Army and CIA allegedly recruited Nazi scientists to help test various psychochemicals and develop a new truth serum using its own veterans as test subjects.

“Over half of these Nazi recruits had been members of the SS or Nazi Party,” according to the class action. “The ‘Paperclip’ name was chosen because so many of the employment applications were clipped to immigration papers.”

Veterans say the government was trying to develop and test substances that could trigger mind control, confusion, euphoria, altered personality, unconsciousness, physical paralysis, illogical thinking and mania, among other effects.

The experiments in Army compounds at Edgewood Arsenal and Fort Detrick, Md., left many veterans with debilitating health problems for decades. Veterans say the government has since refused to provide proper medical care.     In their latest bid for disclosure, the Vietnam Veterans of America sought documents revealing the VA’s processes of identifying and notifying soldiers who were potentially exposed during the chemical and biological tests.

The department claimed the documents were shielded by the deliberative process privilege, which protects the decision-making processes of government agencies.

As in previous rulings, Corley ordered the VA to turn over most of the documents requested. She said the privilege either did not apply to the documents sought, or the veterans “have demonstrated a sufficient substantial need to overcome the qualified deliberative process privilege.”

Corley rejected the VA’s claim that the plaintiffs already have “an abundance of information and documents” about its notification and verification processes.

“The Court agrees that considerable discovery has been provided on this subject; however, having reviewed the thousands of pages of documents submitted for in camera review, the Court notes that these processes are far from clear or consistent, and in fact, seem to have undergone numerous modifications over time,” Corley wrote (italics in original).

She ordered the VA to disclose more than 40 documents, which she deemed “both relevant and unavailable from other sources given that the documents reflect processes which have evolved over time.”

However, Corley ruled that the VA need not reimburse the plaintiffs for the costs of resuming two depositions.