Military used nerve gas, toxin in '60s tests

Friday, May 24, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military used two kinds of nerve gas and a biological toxin in tests on Navy ships in the 1960s, the Pentagon acknowledged for the first time Thursday.

Officials said veterans harmed by exposure to the agents could be eligible for health benefits.

The four tests in the Pacific from 1964 to 1968 used either the deadly nerve agent sarin, the nerve gas known as VX, or a biological toxin that causes flu-like symptoms, Defense Department statements said.

The tests, conducted on barges, tugs, destroyers and other ships, were to test the weapons themselves, protective gear and decontamination procedures.

Sketchy records of the tests and ships' logs do not indicate any of those involved in the tests suffered serious health problems at the time, said Dr. Michael E. Kilpatrick, a Defense Department health official. "It may not be the best, but we believe if anything catastrophic happened or if there were large numbers of ill people, it would be in the log," said Kilpatrick, who was involved in reviewing the records. "There's no indication on any of these tests that that had occurred."

The Department of Veterans Affairs has mailed letters to about 600 veterans who may have taken part in the tests, VA Secretary Anthony Principi said Thursday. Any who were harmed by the chemicals could be eligible for VA benefits.

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