9. IRRADIATED VETERANS: VA CAUGHT DESTROYING CLAIMS EVIDENCE

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 the suit.

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.

SOURCES:

VVA VETERAN, November 1986, "Scandal Hints Plague VA," pp 5-9; January 1987, "The Scandal Deepens," pp 15-18.