Bill to Help Mustard Gas Victims Obtain Benefits Welcomed by Veterans Attorney

Law Firm Newswire



Tampa, FL (Law Firm Newswire) July 13, 2016 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has rejected around 90 percent of benefits claims filed by veterans who participated in secret mustard gas tests during World War II.

The VA received 1,213 disability claims related to the exposure from 792 veterans between 2005 and 2015. According to a yearlong Senate investigation, the agency denied 1,028 of those claims. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri released the findings along with the Arla Harrell Act, a bill that expedites VA benefits for victims. She criticized the government for mistreating testing victims and failing to compensate them.

“The VA has unfairly made it the victims’ responsibility to provide proof of their suffering,” said David Magann, a Florida veterans attorney. “Through no fault of their own, these veterans have lived with the horrific effects of the testing for years without receiving the medical care they need and the benefits they deserve.”

Around 60,000 troops were exposed to mustard gas and the chemical agent lewisite during experiments that were part of a secret military research program in the 1940s. Both substances are banned and are linked to 14 serious health conditions including heart disease, asthma and lung cancer. Under existing VA policy, veterans must prove their entire bodies were exposed to the chemicals and that they have a related illness in order to qualify for benefits.

According to McCaskill, out of the approximately 400 eligible veterans nationwide she believes may still be alive only 40 are receiving health benefits. The rest of these veterans could get some relief from the Arla Harrell Act. The bill is named after an 89-year-old Missouri veteran whose benefits claim has been rejected four times by the VA since 1993.

The bill would reduce the burden of proof on victims who experienced poor health after being subject to the testing. It orders a fast-tracked review of Harrell’s case and other denied benefits claims. Veterans have faced a frustrating lack of documentation. The VA and Department of Defense have differing lists of testing locations and an incomplete database of exposed service members.

“I think the people who are still living deserve to have their claims met and not denied, and I do think it is important to the families of those who have died for [the VA and Defense Department] to say, ‘We believe you,’” said McCaskill.

The VA has said it is reviewing the senator’s report. Many test participants were sworn to confidentiality until the oath of secrecy lifted in 1991. The military did not declassify the experiments until 1975.

Learn more at David W. Magann, P.A. Main Office: 156 West Robertson Street Brandon, FL 33511 Call: (813) 657-9175 Tampa Office: 18715 N Dale Mabry Hwy Lutz, FL 33548