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U.S. soldiers used as 'human guinea pigs' in top-secret chemical testing program

Nashville veteran discusses his experience at Edgewood Arsenal
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Posted at 12:14 PM, Nov 11, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A top-secret military program treated active-duty U.S. soldiers like they were guinea pigs according to a class action lawsuit that shed light on what happened.

For 20 years the government tested chemicals on soldiers who were not aware what was being put in their bodies.

The testing took place at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland from 1955 through 1975.

Nashville veteran Dennis Paul, 79, discussed his experience in the program with NewsChannel 5 Investigates, saying he it impacted him long after he left the Army.

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Dennis Paul

Paul was serving at Fort Bliss in Texas in 1968, when he volunteered for what he thought would be an easy assignment.

"The word got around they were looking for volunteers for testing," Paul said.

"Weekends off and relaxing that's why I took it," Paul remembered.

He showed a black and white photo of a large group of soldiers in front of a sign "Medical Volunteers."

"That's me" he said pointing to a younger version of himself.

He said the group was told they would help test military equipment like gas masks.

But instead, the military deliberately exposed them to chemical and biological agents.

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Attorney James Hancock works with the California law firm Morrison & Foerster, which filed a class action lawsuit back in 2008 against the CIA and Department of Defense.

"These were active-duty U.S. service members being used as human guinea pigs," Hancock said.

The lawsuit detailed how the military secretly tested drugs and chemicals on thousands of soldiers — including dangerous nerve gases like Sarin and incapacitating agents like LSD and BZ, that Paul called Benzene.

"It's an important story that needs to be told and it's a story that frankly a lot of people don't know," Hancock said.

Declassified military films show soldiers being given drugs and then being monitored to see their impacts.

"For the actual test Private Zadrovney received a high dose of the incapacitating agent," the film's narrator said.

One film showed soldiers being injected with BZ, which in high doses can lead to hallucinations and confusion.

After receiving the drug, soldiers were monitored to see if they could do basic tasks like run an obstacle course.

"Shortly after receiving the drug, he is grossly impaired," a narrator said as a soldier struggled through an obstacle course.

In the midst of the Cold War, the military was concerned chemical agents could be used against U.S. soldiers.

The lawsuit quoted a 1954 report to President Dwight Eisenhower which urged him to approve the human testing program, "If the United states is to survive, long standing American concepts of fair play must be reconsidered."

"It's sobering to hear the words and discussion that was happening about setting this program up," Hancock said.

Hancock said the class action lawsuit led to nearly 10 years of litigation.

It forced the Army to locate soldiers who were in the testing program and send them documentation detailing what happened to them.

It also released soldiers from their oath of secrecy.

Paul's paperwork shows he received BZ, which he said felt like he was in a nightmare for hours at a time.

"You can't coordinate anything you know. You can't hardly walk, and your mind is going so many different directions," Paul said.

"I'm glad to be talking to you about it. I feel like in my heart there's a lot of guys out there that went through the same thing I did," Paul said.

Documents reveal after getting BZ, Paul was put in temperatures of 105 degrees — then 125 degrees — for up to seven hours, to see if the drug impacted the way soldiers sweated.

"The doctor said, 'we're giving this test to see it in a warmer climate.' So, when I received the shot, we went into a heat room," Paul said.

But it wasn't just BZ he received.

Paul showed us an interview from April of 1968.

A nurse or doctor asked him questions after he was put in a chamber and exposed to an irritant, likely tear gas.

He was asked "Did you have pain every time you took a breath?"

He answered "Yes."

And "How would you compare this test with the last one?"

"Today was worse," he responded.

"We did volunteer," Paul said. "But not to get messed up," he continued.

"They didn't know they were signing up to get mystery chemicals injected into their bodies," Hancock said.

Paul retired from the military and went on to raise a family in Nashville.

At 79 years old, he actively harvests honey from his bee farm.

But he's haunted by what happened to him at Edgewood.

He believes the testing hurt him emotionally and stole part of his life.

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Nashville veteran Dennis Paul discusses his experience in the program with NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

"I missed out on so much with my family, not being able to say, when they were little boys, you know, I love them. It wasn't the real me there," Paul said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a page about the testing on its website.

"About 7,000 soldiers took part in the experiments that involved exposures to more than 250 chemicals," it stated.

It claimed "no significant health effects have been observed" in those who were tested.

Paul disagreed.

But now he just wants people to know what he and others endured.

"I've read several of the guys say they were never the same after BZ, and they are telling the truth," Paul said.

The chemical testing on soldiers stopped in 1975.

"It's important that these soldiers who served their country are honored and get to the tell their story," Hancock said.

The Army is now required to provide medical care to veterans if they can prove their health issues are the result of the testing.