THE BLOG

Obama Calls for Probe of Vets Used as 'Guinea Pigs' in Drug Tests

06/17/2008 02:01 pm 14:01:29 | Updated May 25, 2011

Barack Obama showed again today that he is determined to get and keep the Iraq vet vote and the ballots of those who care about them -- despite John McCain's "war hero" image.

While McCain remained silent, Obama quickly responded to the revelations today of Iraq vets used as "guinea pigs" in dangerous drug tests, by stating: "It is outrageous and unacceptable that our government would irresponsibly endanger veterans who have already sacrificed so much for our country. Our veterans -- particularly those suffering from mental health injuries -- should have the very best health care and support in the world, they should never be needlessly exposed to drugs without proper notification of the dangers involved or effective monitoring of the side effects.

"I will immediately be asking for a full and thorough investigation of how our government could yet again let down our veterans and their families who have given so much to their country, and who have paid so much for the failures of civilian leadership in Washington. It is time to demand accountability and to ensure that this kind of breach of trust never takes place again."

As if the "soldier suicide" problem wasn't bad enough already, word emerged today from ABC News and The Washington Times that our government is testing drugs with severe side effects, including promoting suicidal behavior, on hundreds of vets.

In one case, the V.A. took three months to alert the veterans to the severe mental effects caused by one of the drugs, the controversial Chantix, used to halt smoking.

They are even using cash payments to attract patients into medical experiments "that often target distressed soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," the newspaper puts it today.

The Chantix warning did not come "until after one of the veterans taking the drug had suffered a psychotic episode that ended in a near lethal confrontation with police," the Washington Times reports.

ABC aired an inteview today with that man, James Elliott, an Army sharpshooter who suffers from PTSD after serving 15 months in Iraq. "You're a lab rat for $30 a month," Elliott said.

More from the Washington Times report:

One of the nation's premier medical ethicists said the VA's behavior in the anti-smoking study violated basic protections for humans in medical experiments.

"When you're taking advantage of a very vulnerable population, people who have served the country, and the agency that's responsible for their welfare isn't putting their welfare first, that's a pretty serious breach of ethics," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

In all, nearly 1,000 veterans with PTSD were enrolled in the study to test different methods of ending smoking, with 143 using Chantix. Twenty-one veterans reported adverse effects from the drug, including one who suffered suicidal thoughts, the three-month investigation by The Times and ABC News found.

Mr. Caplan, who reviewed the consent and notification forms for the study at the request of The Times and ABC News, said the VA deserved an "F" and that it has an obligation to end the study, given the vulnerability of veterans with PTSD and the known side effects of Chantix. "Continuing it doesn't make any ethical sense," he said.

The VA continues to test Chantix on veterans, even as reported problems with the drug increase and have prompted at least one other federal agency to take action. On May 21, the Federal Aviation Administration banned airline pilots and air traffic control personnel from taking Chantix, citing the adverse side effects.

Check out the ABC News site for the video.

Greg Mitchell's new book includes several chapters on soldier/vet suicides. It is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. He is editor of Editor & Publisher.