Law Requires Reconsideration of Mustard Gas Claims by WWII Veterans

By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump signed a bill directing VA and DoD to reconsider and make new determinations for all previously denied claims for benefits related to exposure to mustard gas or lewisite, a compound used as a chemical weapon.

The bill was approved by both the House and Senate before the August recess.

“This legislation will hold the U.S. government to its promise to care for veterans whose health has been harmed as a direct result of their honorable military service,” said American Legion National Commander Charles Schmidt after passage of the bill.

At issue, according to proponents of the bill, is that thousands of World War II servicemembers were exposed to mustard gas or lewisite during secret experiments conducted by the military. The U.S. military finally acknowledged its role in the experiments once the last of the experiments was declassified in 1975. Many veterans did not come forward, however, until an oath of secrecy – which they said they were mandated to take—was lifted in 1991.

While a process was established by VA for compensation, advocates point out that 90% of the veterans who applied for benefits for mustard gas have been rejected. Only about 40 of the claims for benefits have been accepted.

“In total, approximately 60,000 servicemembers are estimated to have participated in these tests, with about 4,000 facing the most extreme forms of full-body exposure. Less than 400 of them are still alive today,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who authored the Senate bill, told the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs last month.

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