Veterans Affairs Department hospitals are combing through old records to determine if they participated in radiation experiments on veterans as far back as 1947.
VA Secretary Jesse Brown directed all VA hospitals to review hospital research reports, minutes of any radioisotope committees, citations from staff publications or any contracts with private facilities such as affiliated teaching hospitals.
The directive followed disclosures by the government of a wide variety of tests of radiation on civilians, members of the armed forces and veterans during the early years of the Cold War.
As of last week, the VA hadn't completed its study, Mr. Brown said, adding that the department hadn't identified the hospitals at which the experiments were conducted.
For the VA and its supporters, the radiation controversy is yet another obstacle they will have to overcome as they try to restore confidence in the VA healthcare system.
"This is just another thing heaped on that takes away from the healthcare reform debate," said Larry Rivers, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "This raises a credibility problem on a whole wide range of questions that is going to make it that much harder to sell the VA to veterans."
VA records show that in 1948, one year after the radioisotope program was classi fied as "confiden tial" because of concerns that vet erans who were tested would file disability claims, there were eight such research pro grams functioning within the VA.
By 1951, 14 programs were functioning and, by 1958, the VA had 48 projects under way, according to a VA spokeswoman. However, because the program was confidential, the VA hasn't been able to determine which hospitals conducted experiments, the spokeswoman added.
VA records show that more than 1,000 radiation research projects were performed in 1955 and 1956, but they don't detail if tests were conducted with or without the consent of the veterans, according to the spokeswoman.
Veterans groups praised the Clinton administration for its quick response to the problem but expressed outrage that the tests had occurred in the first place.
"It's up to the VA hospitals to find out what role they played," said John Hanson, director of national veterans affairs at the American Legion. "Until they detail the scope of the problem or clear themselves, there is going to be a cloud over them."-Eric Weissenstein