By Jon Christian Ryter
June 21, 2008
The US government has a questionable history of using military personnel as guinea pigs to determine the potential health risks soldiers experience when they are exposed to caustic and sometimes deadly agents. During the period between the two world wars soldiers were deliberately exposed to mustard gas. Between 1945 to 1955 military personnel were exposed to radiation from nuclear bomb tests. In experiments conducted by the CIA and the US Army Biomedical Laboratory (under Project MKUltra), veterans were given the psychedelic drug Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, more commonly known as LSD. None of the military subjects given the drug consented to be guinea pigs, nor were any of them advised that LSD could cause long-term bizarre hallucinogenic psychoses. The experiments took place because the CIA and military intelligence believed LSD could be effective in interrogations and, the military believed, mind control. Some believed that LSD might lead to a cure for schizophrenia. When they realized LSD caused the problems they were trying to cure, the military moved on, leaving their victims to cope with the problems they induced.
In the 1960s and 1970s, military personnel in Vietnam were exposed to herbicides like Agent Orange. In the Gulf War US military personnel were tasked with the responsibility of burning up Saddam Hussein’s recovered caches of chemical and biological weapons whenever and wherever they were found. The soldiers were not told that the weaponry they were destroying contained toxic chemicals and biological agents that could do serious harm to them if they breathed the toxic fumes. Confirmed by testimony from scores of military victims in sworn US Senate testimony in 2002, few if any of the military guinea pigs were informed of potential health risks from exposure or consumption of the chemical or biological agents. In fact, it is doubtful that the officers of these men even knew what it was they were destroying.
The worst experiment by the US government thus far exposed is reminiscent of the sadistic experiments performed by Nazi war criminal Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz in 1942. In 1932 the US Public Health Service initiated a study known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The subjects were uneducated black sharecroppers who contracted syphilis. When World War II broke out, all of the subjects were drafted into the army where they could be completely controlled by the Public Health Service. All of the subjects were denied any medical treatment for syphilis. They were simply told they had “bad blood” and there was nothing that could be done for them. The study tracked two generations of their families. Of the initial participants of the study, 28 died from syphilis and slightly more than 100 died from complications caused by syphilis. Forty wives and 19 children got the disease. And the US Public Health Service got reams of data about how syphilis progresses and how it passed from infected mothers to their offspring.
Today the Veteran’s Administration has some 1,200 ongoing clinical studies which are using 4,796 veterans as guinea pigs. The largest study being conducted at this time is that of exploring the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] on affected soldiers. It is believed by the government that over 830,000 veterans have some form of PTSD—which is just about everyone who has served in a war zone. No human can witness the horrors of war and walk away unaffected by the carnage. Since the invasion of Iraq, over 40 thousand soldiers who have been diagnosed with, and/or treated for, PTSD. Some 4,796 of them are currently enrolled in the PTSD studies. Those clinical studies are not problematic, and are helping the VA diagnose and treat PTSD.
Problematic are many of the 940 PTSD veterans who are enrolled in one specific smoking cessation program—for $30 per month to be a guinea pig for Uncle Sam. The vets in the smoking cessation program were given a variety of methods to end their smoking addictions. Of them, 143 veterans were given an experimental smoking cessation drug called Chantix®. Two weeks after the VA began the Chantix® study in November, 2007, the US Food & Drug Administration [FDA] advised the VA that Chantix® appeared to cause hallucinations, psychotic behavior and that some subjects taking the drug had attempted suicide. On January 18, 2008, Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company that developed Chantix® updated the warning label on Chantix® to read: “Patients who are attempting to quit smoking with Chantix should be observed for serious neuropsychiatry symptoms, including changes in behavior, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior.”
But, not even the warning from the FDA and the label update by Pfizer suggested to the VA that they might think about terminating the study since every person in it were already burdened with PTSD. Because they signed informed consent cards, and affirmed they understood there might be a risk in participating in the clinical study, the VA did not fully notify the test subjects that the side affects from Chantix® might include suicide or, at least, suicidal behavior. The VA did modify its consent form—for new participants. The change noted that side affects could include “…anxiety, nervousness, tension, depression, thoughts of suicide and attempted and completed suicide.” It is unclear what, if any, additional warnings were given to the vets who were currently enrolled in the Chantix® test. When Congress got wind of the fact that the VA waited three months before notifying the clinical test subjects of the potential risk for PTSD victims to use Chantix®, Congressman Steve Buyer [R-IN], the ranking GOP member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs asked the VA why they failed to warn test subjects that the drug might make them suicidal, the VA responded that warnings about suicide were omitted from the notification letter because many veterans are elderly or have eyesight problems. Buyer was among the first to demand an immediate investigation of the Veterans’ Administration.
When he heard the VA’s response to Buyer’s question, retired US Marine Lt. Col. Roger Charles, editor of Defense Watch and the Internet newsmag, Soldiers For The Truth and www.soldiersforthetruth.org founded by author and former Fox News correspondent Lt. Col. David H. Hackworth who died in 2005. Col. Charles, who is now carrying Hack’s baton, said the VA’s reply was the “…most pathetic excuse that can be dredged up. It’s insulting. And then, to brag you got it done in three months because of a cumbersome bureaucracy? What if people’s lives were at risk—oh, wait…they were!”
Arthur Caplan, Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania told the Washington Times that when “…you’re taking advantage of a very vulnerable population, people who have served the country, and the agency that’s responsible for their welfare isn’t putting their welfare first, that’s a pretty serious breach of ethics.” Caplan further noted that the Veterans’ Administration gets an “F” for its conduct, and that it should terminate the smoking cessation program immediately. “Continuing it,” he said, “doesn’t make any ethical sense.”
That fact that the VA is continuing the test, makes you wonder how much money, per head, the VA is receiving for conducting the test, or which Veteran’s Affairs Committee member is doing favors for lobbyists for Pfizer? Of the 143 veterans taking Chantix®, 21, or roughly 15%, have reported adverse side affects. The most vocal of those 15% is James Elliott a chain-smoking Army sharpshooter who was diagnosed with PTSD after 15 months in Iraq as an Army sniper.
When Elliott came home from Iraq in 2004 he brought his nightmares with him. Exploding bombs. Body parts and dogs eating corpses in the street. And, most of all, the vision of a child’s head—blown from its body—laying in the street. After being treated at the VA, the symptoms of PTSD disappeared. He enrolled in college and was earning high grades when the VA offered veterans $30 per month to join a smoking cessation program. Within a week or two Elliott’s nightmares returned. He would awaken, thrashing in bed, screaming for air strikes, and reliving every vivid detail of watching friends get hit by enemy fire and bleed to death before his eyes. Day by day, night by night, the nightmares got worse until they morphed into daytime hallucinations His mind told him that people walking down the street were suicide bombers wearing bomb belts. He became certain that cars parked in front of homes were actually IEDs—improvised explosive devises.
On Feb. 5, 2008 Elliott cracked. He took his loaded .40 caliber automatic pistol and left the house. When his girlfriend discovered his gun was missing, she called the police. Knowing he was a hallucinating skilled sniper the police would not have been blamed if they took him down with firearms. Instead they used a stun gun, and dropped Elliott with an electrical charge after Elliott taunted them to shoot him. As he was being transported to the local police lockup, Elliott asked the arresting officers why they didn’t shoot him, adding that “…I would have shot me.” Elliott told the media that “…the carrot they dangled in front of my face was $30 a month for the three year program. I knew it was a research project, but I also needed he money.”
Col. Charles noted that the “…the idea that you would take people already diagnosed with mental issues and give them a drug that appears, early on, to have some likelihood of exacerbating such issues. I understand they want vets to quit smoking for financial, health, and moral issues, but I don’t understand why they would give it to …veterans who served their country and picked up mental issues. I would think you’d go the extra mile to keep them from jeopardizing their ability to function normally.”
As Caplan noted that the VA’s behavior in the antismoking study violates the basic protection of humans in medical experiments, the White House defended the action of the VA—which continues to test Chantix® on veteran guinea pigs. The Federal Aviation Agency [FAA] has banned airline pilots and air traffic controllers from using the drug due to potential side effects. Politicians on both sides of the aisle jumped into the fray, with most calling for an investigation of the VA. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka [D-HI] has promised an investigation by his committee. Even presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama (a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee) noted that: “I was very concerned to read [in the] Washington Times…that the Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs has yet again failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard the health and well-being of veterans participating in drug trials.” Obama called the testing outrageous and unacceptable, but fell far short of demanding that all clinical trials using veterans as guinea pigs be suspended.
But, what shocked me most was that not one Congressman or Senator was shocked that veterans were being used as guinea pigs. Because this use of America’s “expended” warriors has been going on since World War II. The politicians were only shocked that the veterans weren’t advised that the latest drugs used in latest clinical tests utilizing the neediest and most desperate walking wounded warriors could cause them to hallucinate or, worse, kill someone or commit suicide. We, as a nation, condemn the horrors of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Birkenau and the other extermination camps of the Third Reich, yet Josef Mengele is alive and well in the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs.
© 2008 Jon C. Ryter – All Rights Reserved
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