Blumenthal, Shaheen Push For VA Secretary to Acknowledge Inadequate Research Following NPR'S Publication of Mustard Gas Exposure Database

Urges agency to review database, contact veterans eligible for benefits, and adopt new research procedures

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert McDonald today to ask the VA to use a new public database compiled by National Public Radio (NPR) to help identify veterans subjected to mustard gas experimentation by the U.S. military during World War II. The database, published yesterday and compiled by NPR staff over the course of six months, includes more than 3,900 veterans who were exposed to the mustard gas experiments.

The Blumenthal-Shaheen letter reads in part:

“We urge the Department to review all available data to identify affected veterans and proactively contact those that may be eligible for VA benefits associated with their exposure, or may have received denied claims from VA in the past. These veterans were subjected to appalling mistreatment and many bear the physical and mental scars of this abuse. The Department has a duty to acknowledge NPR’s efforts and adopt new research procedures to improve the way affected veterans are located.”

NPR’s reporting shed light on how the U.S. military conducted mustard gas exposure experiments on racial minorities and the VA’s failure to provide benefits to many of the veterans who had been exposed. Over the course of two decades, the VA claims to have only found 610 veterans affected by the mustard gas experiments. An NPR researcher was able to find more than 1,200 veterans over the course of several weeks. Following that initial round of reporting by NPR, Senators Shaheen, Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Blumenthal led a letter to the VA seeking answers from the agency as to why it had not been able to identify and provide benefits to more of these veterans.

The text of the letter Blumenthal and Shaheen sent today is available below:

The Honorable Robert McDonald

Secretary

Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Ave NW

Washington, DC 20010

November 4, 2015

Dear Secretary McDonald:

Thank you for your August 12, 2015, response to our letter regarding exposure of certain U.S. military personnel to mustard gas testing by the Department of Defense. As you may be aware, National Public Radio (NPR) has recently published an online database containing comprehensive results from its investigation. The Department should review that information as soon as possible, and work proactively to assist any newly identified veterans.

Recall, reports over the summer described a classified Department of Defense program to test mustard gas and other chemical weapons on U.S. service members during World War II. The report also stated that NPR investigators were able to locate more than 1,200 affected veterans over a period of weeks, while the VA had only located around 600 over two decades. 

Yesterday NPR announced it has created a publically available database featuring its findings from that investigation. We urge the Department to review all available data to identify affected veterans and proactively contact those that may be eligible for VA benefits associated with their exposure, or may have received denied claims from VA in the past. These veterans were subjected to appalling mistreatment and many bear the physical and mental scars of this abuse. The Department has a duty to acknowledge NPR’s efforts and adopt new research procedures to improve the way affected veterans are located.

We appreciate your continued attention to this matter, and look forward to working with you. Thank you for your continued service on behalf of our nation and its veterans.

Sincerely,