Capping a two-year battle on behalf of a Missouri veteran and his fellow service members, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill has successfully passed into law her bill to deliver decades-overdue relief to veterans intentionally exposed to mustard gas during World War II.
McCaskill’s Arla Harrell Act—named for the last living Missouri veteran exposed to those mustard gas experiments—was approved by the Senate last night, after gaining approval in the U.S. House last month, and now heads to President Donald Trump for his signature into law.
“When a Missouri veteran is mistreated, I take it personally—and I’ll take the fight to anyone, anywhere, to make it right,” said McCaskill, herself the daughter of a World War II veteran, and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. “After all these years, it’s frankly less about the benefits that Arla deserves, and will now receive—it’s about recognizing what he sacrificed for this country, and that he and his family deserve to hear three simple words from their government. We believe you.”
During World War II, thousands of U.S. servicemen were exposed to mustard agents through secret U.S. military experiments. By the end of the war, 60,000 servicemen had been human subjects in the military’s chemical defense research program, with an estimated 4,000 of them receiving high levels of exposure to mustard agents. For decades, these servicemen were under explicit orders not to discuss their toxic exposure with their doctors or even their families. The U.S. military did not fully acknowledge its role in the testing program until the last of the experiments was declassified in 1975. The military did not lift the oath of secrecy until the early 1990s.
Following her investigative report, McCaskill battled what she called a “decades-long record of ineptitude and failure” at the VA, and enlisted the support of Republican and Democratic colleagues—including Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana, who introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House. McCaskill also rallied veterans service organizations in support of her bill, and successfully pressured President Trump’s Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin in support of the legislation.
Once signed into law by President Trump, McCaskill’s legislation will:
· Require a re-examination of Arla Harrell’s claim for VA benefits, and the inclusion of Camp Crowder on the list of sites where full body testing took place
· Mandate a quick review of previously denied claims
· Place the burden on the VA (instead of the veteran) to prove or disprove exposure
· Revamp the VA’s application and adjudication process in the future
· Mandate an investigation by both agencies to determine what went wrong with this process and officially acknowledge the horror these servicemen endured
The bill is cosponsored by fellow Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, and Senator Bill Nelson of Florida.