Walorski, Rice Reintroduce Bill to Help WWII Veterans Denied Care After Secret Mustard Gas Experiments
Bipartisan Arla Harrell Act Would Require Reevaluation of Denied Benefits Claims Tied to Mustard Gas Exposure
WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation to ensure World War II veterans intentionally exposed to mustard gas receive the care and benefits they have long been denied.
“It is simply unacceptable that World War II veterans exposed to mustard gas are being denied the care and benefits they deserve,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “We have a responsibility to the brave servicemembers who risked everything for our country. It’s time to right this wrong and get these American heroes the help they need.”
“This is about correcting an injustice for hundreds of veterans, including several in New York, who were exposed to chemical weapons by our own government and have been denied the benefits and care they deserve for decades since,” Congresswoman Rice said. “I’m proud to join Congresswoman Walorski in this bipartisan effort, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get this legislation passed.”
During World War II, the U.S. military secretly conducted chemical weapons testing on American troops, exposing 60,000 servicemembers to mustard gas or lewisite and swearing them to secrecy.
The testing was declassified in 1975, but the oath of secrecy for servicemembers was not lifted until the early 1990s. Since then, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) failed to adequately notify affected veterans of their eligibility for benefits or to provide proper treatment for the chronic and debilitating conditions that resulted from exposure to mustard agents. The VA has denied approximately 90 percent of benefits claims in the last ten years.
The Arla Harrell Act (H.R. 1359 / S. 75) would ensure affected veterans receive the care and benefits they deserve. It would require the VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to reevaluate previously denied claims for benefits related to mustard gas or lewisite exposure, with a presumption of full-body exposure in those cases unless either agency can prove otherwise. About 800 living veterans would be eligible to have their cases reconsidered.
It would also require VA and DoD to establish a new policy for processing future benefits claims related to mustard gas exposure. The agencies also would submit reports to Congress on the testing and how many servicemembers were exposed, the high rate of benefits denials, and claims that are again denied after reconsideration.
The Arla Harrell Act is named for an affected World War II veteran from Missouri.
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.