In 1945, 18-year-old Arla Harrell enlisted in basic training at Camp Crowder in Neosho, Missouri, where he—along with 60,000 other servicemen at military sites around the country—was intentionally exposed to mustard gas as part of secret experiments by the Department of Defense.
They rubbed a liquid chemical on my arm and hand and had me breathe a gas without a mask on. I had no protective clothing in the gas chamber.” – Arla
While these tests have caused Arla a lifetime of medical problems, he was forced to take an oath of secrecy, which prevented him from sharing this crucial medical information with anyone… including his own doctors.
While the experiments were eventually declassified and the oath of secrecy was lifted, almost none of the servicemen who received full-body mustard gas exposure were granted the care and benefits they so desperately needed. More than 90% of applications for benefits have been denied by the VA due to a broken system that puts an unfair burden of proof on elderly and sick veterans.
Today, only 40 veterans are receiving VA benefits for mustard gas exposure. 40…out of thousands…and Arla is not one of them.
That’s why last week, I introduced the Arla Harrell Act –a sweeping piece of legislation to address these failures.
As the daughter of a World War II veteran, this callous treatment of our servicemen is one of the most shocking things I’ve uncovered in my time in the U.S. Senate. Time is running out to help those who need it most, which is why my bill would:
- mandate a quick review of previously denied claims
- lower the near-impossible bar these servicemen have to clear to get care they need
- revamp the VA and Defense Departments application 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.
I won’t rest until we turn the corner on nearly 70 years of bureaucratic failure and honor the service of Arla Harrell and his fellow servicemen.