Investigations of Chemicals Will Continue

July 11, 2003

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America's Veterans

WASHINGTON, July 11 - The Pentagon has assured Congress that it will not shut down its inquiry into a cold war program that tested the vulnerability of American forces to chemical or biological attack, officials said today.

Seven members of Congress had written to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on June 26 arguing that any decision by the Pentagon to "discontinue its investigation would be premature and would put thousands of veterans at further risk." Veterans groups also complained to the Pentagon.

Late last month, the Pentagon declassified a final set of reports on the test program, which ran from 1961 to 1970, after having identified 5,842 people who may have been exposed to chemical or biological agents.

In a statement today, a senior Pentagon health official said that while its active search of Defense Department records had been completed, officials would continue the inquiry if new information surfaced.

"We remain committed to further investigating any new information regarding these tests," Ellen Embrey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force health protection and readiness, said.

That promise to keep the inquiry open, even in a passive status, was deemed a victory by members of Congress who had urged the Pentagon to declassify the reports.

Representative Mike Thompson, Democrat of California, said in a statement that the Pentagon also promised Congress that it would "continue responding to veterans who contact the department believing they may have been exposed to potentially harmful agents."

Mr. Thompson, an author of the letter to Mr. Rumsfeld, also said: "Many service members in our armed forces unknowingly participated in these tests. It is our duty to provide them with every piece of available information so they may be properly treated for health problems they may have developed as a result of this."

Pentagon officials said that under the testing program, known as Project 112 and Project SHAD, for shipboard hazard and defense, the military conducted 50 exercises of 134 that had been planned.

Some of those tests included spraying deadly substances, including VX and sarin, on military personnel, ships and even on American soil.

Veterans may be eligible for benefits if medical problems or disabilities can be linked to exposure during the tests.