9. IRRADIATED VETERANS: VA CAUGHT DESTROYING CLAIMS
In August of 1986, the Veterans' Administration was
caught red-handed, shredding thousands of case records of contested radiation
injury claims. The shredding took place in spite of a federal court order placing
all such records at the disposal of attorneys representing the injured veterans
in a class-action suit.
Since the 1940's, hundreds of thousands of military personnel have
been exposed to nuclear radiation. Throughout more than 40 years of
nuclear weapons testing, production, storage, and handling, human subjects
have received dangerous radiation doses. Most claims for VA benefits
related to these incidents have been stalled or improperly denied. It
is not uncommon for a radiation claim to languish in the VA's labyrinthine
bureaucracy for five years or longer, before a decision is tendered.
Much key information, such as dosage records, has been discarded or
destroyed. These and other irregularities finally led the National Association
of Radiation Survivors (NARS) to file a class action lawsuit against
the VA. A second veterans' group, Swords to Plowshares, also joined
Initially, ranking VA officials denied that accurate records of
radiation exposures even existed. Then NARS attorney Gordon Erspamer received
two "deep throat" type letters from an anonymous source in the VA's
adjudication unit. The letters described a widespread pattern of abuses inside
the department. Specific reports and documents were listed, containing data the
VA previously claimed did not exist. NARS attorneys moved on the VA, demanding
this new information under federal court order.
Instead of producing the
disputed evidence, VA officials apparently ordered it destroyed. When VA staffers
expressed concern to their supervisors that key documents were being withheld,
they were warned not to interfere. As VA employee Barry Boskovich testified, "...
They told me I was not to put anything in writing anymore ... And I was not to
talk to anyone else. ... And he indicated to me I should be more concerned about
myself and my family."
In addition to withholding key documents, Supervisor
of Field Operations, Michael Dunlap, ordered a general purging and shredding of
VA case files. The VA's own attorney admitted in court that millions of pages
of relevant documents had been and were still being destroyed.
VETERAN, November 1986, "Scandal Hints Plague VA," pp 5-9; January 1987,
"The Scandal Deepens," pp 15-18.