Report: Veterans exposed to toxic ‘mustard gas’ denied benefits

(CNN) The U.S. military has a shameful part of its past: During World War II, it tested highly toxic and sometimes lethal “mustard gas” on thousands of American troops.

What’s more shameful – most of the Veterans who were used in the secret experiments have been denied medical treatment and care they deserve.

But a new bill being introduced could change that.

Exposure to toxic chemicals is a shared experience for thousands from America’s greatest generation–more than seven decades after World War II. According to a Congressional report, hundreds of surviving Veterans that participated in secret mustard gas experiments and other toxic training continue to suffer long-term health consequences.

Like so many others, 90-year-old Army Veteran Arla Harrell, cannot definitively prove his participation in secret experiments contributed to his health problems.

His family says he suffered skin cancers, permanent scarring and respiratory trouble,  but without concrete proof, there is little help from the VA.

Aaccording to a recent Congressional report, the VA denied about 90 percent of benefits claims from veterans like Harrell since 2005.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri said, “We’ve got to correct this injustice and it’s really important that Arla Harrell hear from his government they believe him.”

She added, “This was a classified top secret operation. How is he in a position to prove it? This was kept a secret from everyone. He doesn’t have the wherewithal to prove what day he had the experiment and what location. What this bill says is the burden of proof switches to the veterans administration to prove it didn’t happen.”

The Arla Harrel Act would also require the VA and the Department of Defense to establish a new policy for mustard agent claims, and reconsider all previously denied claims as well.

McCaskill says VA Secretary David Shulkin initially balked at the proposal.

McCaskill explained that he said, “wait, you can’t open this door, we can’t start giving benefits to Veterans who can’t prove it in some kind of blanket negativity. And so then I got him back on the phone with his staff in the room and I said, ‘really?’ It doesn’t open the door to Veterans coming in, It’s just this small group of very elderly men who served their country so bravely.”

But now Secretary Shulkin is behind the bill telling reporters this week quote:

“I do support senator McCaskill in this approach. There are cases that you do need to step up and just do the right thing to make exceptions, and this is one of those cases. She does need legislative support for this and she knows that we’re going to do this together.”

McCaskill is now working to convince congress to join them as well.

Arla’s wife, Betty, tells CNN she’s pretty angry about what the VA did and adds her husband really just wants some recognition–not just for him but for other Veterans.

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