Mr. James Cooper
American Ex-Prisoners of War
Back to Hearing
AMERICAN EX-PRISONERS OF WAR
SENATE and HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
April 14, 2005
Charles A. Stenger, Ph.D
Legislative Consultant Les Jackson
National Capitol Office
1722 Eye Street, NW #204
Washington, DC 20421
Testimony of National Commander James Cooper
American Ex-Prisoners of War
April 14, 2005
Chairman Craig, Chairman Buyer, Ranking Member Akaka, Ranking
Member Evans, Distinguished Members of the Senate and House Veterans
Affairs Committees and Guests.
Your invitation to appear before you today to present concerns of former
prisoners of war is, as always, sincerely and deeply appreciated.
I welcome the opportunity to come before your committees in the first
session of the 10gthCongress. I come to ask your help on behalf of all
former POWs but my plea is most urgent for the 28,000 World War II and
Korean POWs who are still alive.
Their average age is now 85 and they are dYing at a very high rate.
Undoubtedly this is your last chance to keep America's promise to provide
For more than 50 years the National Academy of Sciences has been
conducting scientific research to identify medical conditions that, beyond
any doubt, are the direct consequences of the brutal conditions of captivity.
We have repeatedly asked your committees to act on this information and
that presented by other qualified researchers.
In September of 2004 Secretary Principi took action to administratively
establish two major medical conditions, heart and stroke, as POW
presumptives. As you know, the term "presumptive" simply means that, if
present, those conditions are presumed to be the direct consequences of
those inhumane conditions! We urge you to simply codify those two
conditions into law without further delay.
We also urge you to correct your previous action establishing cirrhosis of
the liver as a presumptive by re-Iabeling it as "chronic liver disease" as the
National Academy of Sciences recommended, since it more accurately
reflects their research findings. Cirrhosis is simply the final phase of liver
damage caused by the POW experience.
Lastly, we urge you to establish the two remaining medical conditions
resulting from the POW experience. These are osteoporosis and diabetes.
The first is the result of calcium depletion from the bones to sustain life.
The latter is the result of the permanent damage to the body's coping
mechanism as a result of months andyears of grossly inadequate diet as a
There are no other conditions that have been shown to be the consequence
of the POW experience than those previously acted on by congress or are
discussed in my testimony today.
Today's conflict in Iraq is a tragic reminder of the sacrifices many
generations of Americans maq.e fpr their country in the past, as well as the
present. We urge your prompt and compassionate action to enact these
proposed presumptives into law.
Charles A. Stenger, Ph.D
The United States is recognized as the world's foremost protector of freedom and democracy.
One major reason has been willingness of many generations of Americans to answer the call to
arms whenever those principleswere threatened- with the determinationto prevail no matter the
Each time a grateful nation assured those veterans their wounds, injuries and long-term health
consequences would be cared for. However, each time the concerns of the nation shifted to more
current matters or future problems. While not intended, apathy toward those who served
developed, nurtured by the assumption that the promise had been kept.
The reality, unfortunately, is a different story. "Out of sight, out of mind" has been all too true.
While this failure to deliver on the promise impacts on many categories of servicemen and
veterans this report will focus on one particularly deserving group - -those who became
prisoners of war during World War II; 130,000 in all.
Despite the unanimous warnings of health care experts, returning prisoners of war (POWs) were
simply permitted to become a part - -an invisible part - - of the millions of veterans returning
from that war.
The captive experience, almost without exception, was brutal and inhumane. POWs lived under
the constant threat of death or injury. They existed on starvation diets. Illnesses, rampant during
confinement, went untreated as did wounds suffered at the time of capture. Little or no
protection was provided against environmental extremes. On top of this, forced labor was
Thousands died under these conditions and those who survived were host to a wide range of
health problems in later life. Of the 116,000 who survived, less than 30,000 are alive today.
They are now dying at the rate often or more each day.
How has our nation met its obligation to Americans who lost their freedom for months and years
while defending the freedom of others? Genuine compassion has always been expressed by
Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but far too little has been done to assure that
the promise "to heal their wounds" has been kept.
For some 30 years VA adjudicators (those who assess disabilities) has literally nothing to go on
to determine the relationship of existing health problems to the deprivations of the captive
experience. They had to rely on service records that were grossly inadequate or totally lacking
for those experiences. To complicate their task further, there was virtually no definitive
information as to what those long term health consequences might be. As a result most paws
were simply denied benefits to which they should have been entitled.
By comparison, Canada, faced with the same problem, simply declared all their World War II
POWs service connected at the 50% level, with higher ratings available based on individual
evaluation. Congress, however, rejected this approach and let the established process, no matter
its inadequacy, continue.
The Vietnam War, particularly the media attention to Americans held captive, stimulated a
review of what had been "accomplished" on behalf of World War II paws. As a result,
Congress from 1981 to 1994 enacted a series of laws establishing specific medical conditions as
"presumptive" for paws. This means simply that it is presumed to have been caused by the
captive experience. As a result, VA adjudicators were able to approve disability benefits for
many paws. Currently, many more paws have now been service connected for one or more
However, this still means that, after 50 years many other paws exposed to the same extreme
circumstances have not been favorably rated for their health problems even though common
among those paws. Those conditions have not been established by Congress as presumptives.
Why have additional medical conditions not been made presumptives for World War II paWs?
Simply because Congress continues to require conclusive research proof that a specific causal
relationship to the captive experience exists. This standard, though entirely appropriate for
typical medical research, requires 95% proof that the research fmdings could not have occurred
by chance. Anything less is totally rejected even though the data may show that far more paws
have the condition than other WorId War II veterans. Also, after 50 years it is extremely difficult
to conduct studies that might be conclusive, or to do so in a timely manner.
What makes this position even less defensible is that Congress, in 1991, has accepted a far more
reasonable standard for Vietnam Veterans presumably exposed to herbicides, such as Agent
Orange. Rather than requiring conclusive proof, the criteria is simply that research data
"suggest" the likelihood that a causal relationship may exist, i.e. an equal balance of evidence or
The American Ex-Prisoners of War endorse this more realistic standard for Vietnam veterans,
and believe it is also appropriate for determining additional presumptives for paws. Just as
Vietnam veterans were exposed to the long term impact of herbicides, paws were exposed to
the long term impact of the captive situation. In both groups a wide range of subsequent health
We have asked Congress to recognize and correct this situation for paws, and to do so
expeditiously. However, an entirely different factor exists - -the priority for funding! While
given the fact that many POWs have already waited 50 years --there is the very real possibility
that this request will be denied even though the total cost is comparably small.
If World War n POWs and their widows continue to be denied benefits that are fully warranted,
it is a tragic message to give to ALL AMERICANS as well as those POWs -- sacrifices in war
are secondary to budgetary constraints. What you did for your country, no matter how justified,
can simply be brushed aside or forgotten.
In October 2004 the Department of Veterans Affairs did act administratively to establish both
heart disease and stroke as presumptive conditions. We are grateful for this important action that
will benefit many POWs and lor their widows. We are asking Congress to simply codifYthis
action and several other medical conditions demonstrated to be directly related to the brutal
conditions of captivity as soon as possible.
While this brief review focuses on POWs from WWII, we are deeply concerned that all veterans,
particularly those from Afghanistan and Iraq, will be sacrificed by the budget process. It is a
,tragic message to give to our newer veterans and their families -- SACRIFICES CAN SIMPLY
BY BRUSHED ASIDE - - AND THEN FORGOTTEN.
Dr. Stenger was a combat medic in WWII, captured while
seeking help from the Germans during the Battle of the
Bulge. As a prisoner, he continued to provide medical
attention to a small group ofPOWs in an Arbiet (Slave
Labor) Camp in the outskirts of Berlin until hostilities