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America's broken promise to veterans who survived race-based chemical weapons testing in WWII

Three test subjects enter a gas chamber, which will fill with mustard gas, as part of the military's secret chemical warfare testing in March 1945. Courtesy of Edgewood Arsenal


Three test subjects enter a gas chamber, which will fill with mustard gas, as part of the military's secret chemical warfare testing in March 1945.
Courtesy of Edgewood Arsenal

NPR this week reported about secret chemical experiments performed by the U.S. military during World War II that grouped men by race. White soldiers were considered the "normal" test subjects. Black, Puerto Rican, Japanese, and other non-white populations were singled out, and sometimes used as proxies for "the enemy."

The formerly classified government program that tested chemical weapons on our own troops was first made public in the early 1990s, but the revelation that the experiments segregated participants by race is sparking new outrage.

When records of the tests were declassified in the early 1990s, the Veterans Administration promised it would find some 4,000 veterans who survived, and offer them compensation. Very few of these survivors, who experience serious health problems and disabilities, have received any aid.

Members of the 3d Ammunition Company, part of the 2nd Marine Division, relax with a captured bicycle after the Battle of Saipan. [Wikipedia]


Members of the 3d Ammunition Company, part of the 2nd Marine Division, relax with a captured bicycle after the Battle of Saipan. [Wikipedia]

Some of these men were literally locked inside gas chambers and tortured with poison gas, then told that if they spoke to anyone about what happened, they'd end up in a military prison.

NPR reports that while the Veterans Administration has responded to the story, the radio news organization is still waiting for the government to hand over documents related to the experiments done on some 60,000 soldiers. Still, NPR has "for the first time" tracked down some of the men who survived the race-based gassing.

"It took all the skin off your hands," says former Army soldier Rollins Edwards, who was exposed to mustard gas in a gas chamber experiment.

He is black, and was also ordered to crawl through fields coated in mustard gas.

"Your hands just rotted."

Mr. Edwards describes being led into the wooden gas chamber and locked inside with other soldiers.

“It felt like you were on fire,” the 93-year-old says. “Guys started screaming and hollering and trying to break out. And then some of the guys fainted. And finally they opened the door and let us out, and the guys were just, they were in bad shape.”

Rollins Edwards as a young soldier in 1945, in the Philippines.


Rollins Edwards as a young soldier in 1945, in the Philippines.

A total of 60,000 veterans participated in the tests, which sought to reveal what clothing, barriers, or ointments might protect U.S. soldiers attacked with mustard gas by foreign forces. The tests were conducted at bases like Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, Camp Sibert in Alabama, as well as research institutions like the University of Chicago.

Caitlin Dickerson, reporting for NPR:

While the Pentagon admitted decades ago that it used American troops as test subjects in experiments with mustard gas, until now, officials have never spoken about the tests that grouped subjects by race.

For the first time, NPR tracked down some of the men used in the race-based experiments. And it wasn't just African-Americans. Japanese-Americans were used as test subjects, serving as proxies for the enemy so scientists could explore how mustard gas and other chemicals might affect Japanese troops. Puerto Rican soldiers were also singled out.

“The Germans put Jews in the gas chamber,” veteran Johnnie H. Ross told a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1992. “The United States put their men in the gas chamber.”

In response to NPR's reports, the VA said:

"The Department of Veterans Affairs appreciates the service and sacrifices of those World War II Veterans who may have been injured in mustard gas testing. VA recognizes that disabilities may have resulted due to full body mustard gas exposure. VA has established presumptions of service connection for certain disabilities that may have resulted from this exposure.

"The NPR story rightfully points out the sacrifices that Veterans and their families have gone through during the years when they were sworn to secrecy. VA is prepared to assist any Veteran or survivor who contacts us in determining their entitlement to benefits. Additionally, if NPR is willing to share with us the list of 1,200 or so Veterans who they have been able to identify as having been exposed, VA will attempt to contact them to ensure they are receiving all the benefits and services to which they are entitled under the law."

These historical photographs depict the forearms of human test subjects after being exposed to nitrogen mustard and lewisite agents in World War II experiments conducted at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory


These historical photographs depict the forearms of human test subjects after being exposed to nitrogen mustard and lewisite agents in World War II experiments conducted at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory

"Mustard gas and American race-based human experimentation in World War II." Susan L. Smith, University of Alberta, Canada. [The Journal of Law Medicine & Ethics, 2008]

"The VA's Broken Promise To Thousands Of Vets Exposed To Mustard Gas" [NPR]

"Secret World War II Chemical Experiments Tested Troops By Race" [NPR]

Related item at The Daily Caller, New York Magazine, PBS NewsHour.

Watch this cute missing dog reunite with her U.S. veteran owner after 5 years apart

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Praise pet microchipping!

Read the rest

Are you donating to one of America's worst charities?

The Tampa Bay Times has done some excellent investigative reporting on the 50 worst charities in America — organizations that took in more than $1 billion over the past 10 years, and gave almost all of that money to their own staffs and professional solicitors. The series explains how charities like this operate and skirt the regulatory system. But if you're feeling TLDR, there's also a PDF that can help you quickly figure out if you're donating to one of these scams. A large portion of the 50 worst is made up of charities devoted to cancer and veterans' issues.

US military continues to abuse and abandon wounded soldiers

In 2010, The New York Times uncovered systemic abuse within units meant to help wounded Army soldiers transition through months-and-years-long treatment and rehabilitation. Today, The Colorado Springs Gazette has a profile about one of the soldiers who stood up for Warrior Transition Units back then. The abuses exposed by the Times weren't fixed and Jerrald Jensen ended up becoming a victim himself. After questioning the mistreatment in the system, he was nearly given a less-than-honorable discharge, which would have cost him long-term Veteran's benefits — a pattern that the Gazette has found happening over and over among the most-vulnerable wounded Army men and women who need the most care in order to rehabilitate from their service injuries. The treatment described here is disgusting, all the more so when you compare it to Jensen's service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Exposing this kind of crap is why journalism exists.

Stress on special ops troops 'worse than we thought' in 2012

Snip from a report by USA Today's Gregg Zoroya: "According to Pentagon data, there were 17 confirmed or suspected suicides this year among commandos or support personnel through Dec. 2, compared with nine suicides each of the past two years. That's a suicide rate among these troops of about 25 per 100,000, comparable to a record rate this year in the Army and higher than a demographically adjusted civilian suicide rate."

Iraq war veteran Kayvan Sabehgi beaten by police at Occupy Oakland, left with lacerated spleen

Video from The Guardian: "Protester and three-tour American veteran Kayvan Sabehgi was beaten by Oakland police during the Occupy protest's general strike on 2 November. Sabehgi, who was 'completely peaceful', according to witnesses, was left with a lacerated spleen."

The War Project: Interview with Staff Sgt. Jason Deckman

Jason-Deckman-Final.jpg

Susannah Breslin's "The War Project," a series of interviews with veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has a new feature up: the story of Staff Sgt. Jason Deckman. The 38-year-old veteran has been in the Army for 16 years. "I dream about my weapon," he tells Susannah.

Deckman is a combat engineer who has deployed five times--to Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, and Iraq twice. He has served with the 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Armored Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 54th Engineer Battalion in Bamberg, Germany, and 420th Engineer Brigade. In early 2007, he transferred to the Army Reserves and is currently assigned to the 980th Engineer Battalion at Camp Mabry in Austin. Later this year, he will deploy to Afghanistan. He lives in Killeen, Texas.
From Deckman's story:

One of the things that I got was I had nightmares for a while. I've been having a few more lately. It's a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. It's not normal to think you're going to be killed in the very next second. It does weird things to your brain.

I dream about my weapon. I can point it at the enemy, and I can see him coming at me, and I pull that trigger, and it feels like someone jammed gum inside there, and I can pull it, and pull it, and pull it, and it only budges a little bit at a time.

I didn't dream about IEDs while I was in Iraq. It wasn't until after I'd come back. I had one dream after I came back where I was walking through this little, shitty mud shack village. I kind of went up a hill on one side, and there was a little road come down to this ditch. Somehow I had fallen in the ditch, I couldn't get out of the ditch, and the enemy was up at the top of the hill rolling IEDs down the road at me.

INTERVIEW: Staff Sgt. Jason Deckman (thewarproject.com, interview and photo by Susannah Breslin)

Read Susannah's post at Forbes about the process of helping these vets tell their stories. Follow her on Twitter.

Veterans, some with brain injuries, curate neglected Army archaeological collection

Steve sez, "Brain-injured vets are curating a huge, neglected archeological collection from Army Corps of Engineers:"
The collection dates to the 1930s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started building dozens of locks, dams and reservoirs, and the ground beneath them was excavated for archaeological treasures.

Prehistoric and historic pottery, stone tools, arrowheads, Indian beads, necklaces, earrings and ear spools, and ceremonial artifacts, even human remains, were collected. The items then sat in boxes and paper bags in university museums as well as private basements, garages and tool sheds.

In recent weeks, U.S. veterans - many with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder - have begun processing, cataloguing, digitizing and archiving the collection as part of a one-year $3.5 million project, funded with federal stimulus money.

US military vets working on archaeological project (Thanks, Steve!)

(Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Photo by David Knoerlein)