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Government Experiments on U.S. Soldiers: Shocking Claims Come to Light in New Court Case

They say government scientists messed with their minds. Now, veterans who were the subject of top-secret experiments want answers.

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One of those vets is Frank Rochelle. Unlike those of other test veterans, portions of his heavily redacted medical records have survived, providing a rare, if incomplete, account of his experiences. In 1968, while posted at Virginia's Fort Lee as a 20-year-old Army draftee, he saw a notice calling for volunteers for the Edgewood program. Among the promised incentives were relief from guard duty, the freedom to wear civilian clothes, three-day weekends, and, upon completion, a medal of commendation—all for participation in experiments that, according to the notice, would help the military test a new generation of equipment, clothing, and gas masks. Upon his arrival at the testing facility in Maryland, he says he was asked to sign a series of documents, including a release form and a secrecy agreement. The tests would be risk free, he says he was told, and any drugs given would not exceed normal dosage. Over the next two months, however, he was subjected to three rounds of experiments that, Rochelle says, left him permanently damaged. His medical records indicate that he was exposed to nonlethal incapacitating agents like DHMP and glycolate, both of which act as sedatives that produce hallucinations. In the latter case, Rochelle says he was taken into a gas chamber and strapped to a chair by two men in white lab coats, who affixed a mask to his face and told him to breathe normally. He quickly lost consciousness. According to Erspamer's complaint, "Over the next two to three days, Frank was hallucinating and high: he thought he was three feet tall, saw animals on the walls, thought he was being pursued by a 6-foot-tall white rabbit, heard people calling his name, thought that all his freckles were bugs under his skin, and used a razor to try to cut these bugs out. No one from the clinical staff intervened on his behalf…"

Medical records indicate that Rochelle went through a third round of testing, but he has no memory of it. For years he's been having nightmares about the Edgewood tests and now suffers from anxiety, memory loss, sleep apnea, tinnitus, and loss of vision, all of which he claims are direct results of the experiments. Still, he didn't inform his doctor of the tests until 2006, believing that he was still bound by the oath of secrecy he swore in 1968. (The government finally released human test subjects to speak to their physicians about the tests in June 2006, under the condition that they not "discuss anything that relates to operational information that might reveal chemical or biological warfare vulnerabilities or capabilities.")

Rochelle's story is similar to those of Erspamer's other plaintiffs, all of whom claim to be suffering debilitating health effects stemming from the experiments. Of course, substantiating these claims is a challenge, given that most of the medical records were destroyed upon completion of the program. Rochelle's records remain intact, but for "others we have less information," says Erspamer. "We spent a great deal of time on that topic, and we are confident that the plaintiffs are who they say they are, were where they said they were, and got what they said they got," in terms of exposure to experimental chemicals. "Who bears the burden on that issue when the defendants destroyed the evidence?" Erspamer asks. "They've put all that stuff through the shredder."

Compensation for injuries sustained during human testing of chemical and biological agents is not unprecedented. Last year, more than 350 servicemen who served as test subjects at Porton Down, a secret military research facility where the British government conducted its own series of mind-control experiments, were granted nearly $6 million in compensation in an out-of-court settlement with the UK's Ministry of Defence. Likewise, in 2004, the Canadian government began offering $18,000 payments to eligible veterans of experiments at its testing facilities. Nevertheless, says Erspamer, "No American soldiers have ever been compensated." The CIA and the Army "just hope they're all gonna die off, and they will unless somebody does something."

 
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