Walorski Applauds House Passage of Benefits for WWII Veterans Exposed to Mustard Gas
Provisions Based on Walorski-Led Bill Would Require Reevaluation of Denied Benefits Claims Tied to Secret Mustard Gas Experiments
WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today applauded House passage of legislation that includes provisions based on a bill she introduced to ensure World War II veterans intentionally exposed to mustard gas receive the benefits they have long been denied.
“We owe our freedom to the American heroes who served in World War II, and it is simply unacceptable that veterans exposed to mustard gas are being denied the benefits they deserve,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “Today we took an important step toward righting this wrong and taking care of these brave veterans who risked everything for our country.”
Walorski and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) in March reintroduced the bipartisan Arla Harrell Act (H.R. 1359), which requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) to reevaluate previously denied claims for benefits related to mustard gas or lewisite exposure.
The House today unanimously passed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (H.R. 3218), which included provisions similar to the Arla Harrell Act after the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee adopted an amendment offered by Congresswoman Rice.
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 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 decade.
The provisions passed as part of H.R. 3218 would require the VA to reevaluate previously denied claims for benefits related to mustard gas or lewisite exposure at certain military sites, with a presumption of full-body exposure in those cases unless it can be proven otherwise.
The VA and DoD would also be required to submit reports to Congress on the testing and how many servicemembers were exposed, as well as on the steps taken to contact affected veterans, high rate of benefits denials and any claims that are again denied after reconsideration.
The Arla Harrell Act is named for an affected World War II veteran from Missouri. U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced the legislation in the Senate.
Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.