SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge in Oakland has ruled that Cold War military veterans who say they were harmed by government-backed chemical and biological experiments aren't entitled to medical treatment outside the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled Wednesday that the veterans failed to prove that the VA system was inadequate to properly treat them. She did order the government to keep the thousands of veterans who participated in the experiments up-to-date on any new health hazards that may surface.
Several veterans filed a federal lawsuit in 2009 alleging that the government was failing to properly treat health problems allegedly caused by the experiments. The lawsuit was then turned into a class action, representing at least 7,800 veterans who say the government exposed them to chemical agents, germs and all sorts of drugs in researching how to defend against nontraditional weapons attacks.
The lawsuit alleged that the government failed to provide proper notice to many of the veterans about health hazards they faced by participating in the experiments. The lawsuit also alleged that the VA system is so overburdened that it can't properly treat veterans now allegedly suffering health problems because of their participation in the experiments.
The U.S. government says it stopped experimenting on humans in 1976.
On Wednesday, Wilken gutted most of the veterans' claims by ruling the government has attempted to reach out and offer help to them over the years. In 2006, for instance, the VA sent letters to as many test subjects as it could locate, alerting them to file disability claims if they believed their health was suffering because of the experiments. The federal government also issued a blanket order releasing all test subjects from secrecy oaths they signed to participate in the experiments so that the vets could freely discuss their health concerns with VA doctors.
However, Wilken ruled that the government does "have an ongoing duty to warn about newly acquired information that may affect the well-being of test subjects after they completed their participation in research."
The veterans' lawyer, Eugene Illovsky, said he was "gratified" that the government owed a duty to the veterans to keep warning them of newly discovered health hazards. He said he was still reading through the 72-page ruling and consulting with his clients to determine whether to appeal.