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Lawmakers Promise To Take Action After NPR's Mustard Gas Exposure Report

Jun 24, 2015
Originally published on June 24, 2015 12:41 pm

This week, NPR has been reporting on World War II veterans who were exposed to mustard gas. The men were used as test subjects in secret experiments conducted by the U.S. military.

An NPR investigation found the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to keep its promise of benefits to thousands of those veterans. The reports also revealed a previously unknown set of U.S. military tests, which singled out minority servicemen by race.

NPR found evidence that black and Puerto Rican soldiers were tested on the theory that dark skinned men were more resistant to chemical weapons. And that Japanese-American troops were tested as proxies for the Japanese enemy.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., is a third generation Japanese-American. He says the government needs to take responsibility for what it did in these tests, which were conducted more than 70 years ago.

"It's so shocking and so, I don't know, so backwards," he says. "I think that the DOD and even our Congress needs to acknowledge that through an apology, a formal, recognition or apology and teach this in our schools."

Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

"There needs to be, I believe, some restitution," she says.

Clarke says she plans to lead the charge in making sure the test subjects, who by now are in their 80s and 90s, are compensated.

"We don't know what turn their lives took. Were they able to be able-bodied individuals in the workforce? How have their families suffered as a result of the exposure to mustard gas? And it's incumbent upon the VA to really get to the bottom of it," she says.

Democrat Senator Joe Donnelly also responded to the NPR reports:

"The current treatment of these veterans, who experienced unconscionable treatment during their service, is absolutely unacceptable," he says. "If there are statutory issues preventing VA from providing the care these veterans deserve, Congress needs to change the law so VA can provide treatment right away. If there are no statutory issues, the VA needs to identify the veterans affected and provide benefits without delay."

The survivors of race-based experiments are a small fraction of the 60,000 veterans who were used in World War II tests with mustard gas. Twenty-five years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs promised to help those who were permanently injured.

But the NPR investigation found the VA didn't follow through.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., is the vice-chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He says he's working on bringing in VA officials to testify, and has already requested a hearing.

"You know we're giving them the funding with regard to the benefits and we have to hold them accountable. If people aren't doing their jobs they should be fired," he says.

The VA responded to the stories in a statement saying they are prepared to assist any Veteran or survivor who contacts them.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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And we've been reporting this week on World War II veterans who were exposed to mustard gas. The men were used as test subjects in secret experiments conducted by the United States military. An NPR investigation found the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to keep its promise of compensation to thousands of those veterans and that the U.S. military tests singled out minority soldiers. NPR's Caitlin Dickerson reports that members of Congress are now promising to take action.

CAITLIN DICKERSON, BYLINE: NPR found evidence that black and Puerto Rican soldiers were tested on the theory that dark skinned men were more resistant to chemical weapons, and the Japanese-American troops were tested as proxies for the Japanese enemy.

MIKE HONDA: It's so shocking and so, I don't know, so backwards.

DICKERSON: California Congressman Mike Honda is third-generation Japanese-American. He says the government needs to take responsibility for what it did in these tests, which were conducted more than 70 years ago.

HONDA: I think that the DOD and the - even our Congress needs to acknowledge that through an apology, a formal recognition apology, and teach this in our schools.

YVETTE CLARKE: And there needs to be, I believe, some restitution.

DICKERSON: Congresswoman Yvette Clarke from New York is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. She says she plans to lead the charge in making sure these test subjects, who by now are in their 80s and 90s, are compensated.

CLARKE: We don't know what turn their lives took. Were they able to be able-bodied individuals in the workforce? How had their family suffered as a result of the exposure to mustard gas? And it's incumbent upon the VA to get to the bottom of it.

DICKERSON: The survivors of race-based experiments are a small fraction of the 60,000 veterans who were used in World War II tests with mustard gas. Twenty-five years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs promised to help those who were permanently injured. But an NPR investigation found the VA didn't follow through. Florida Representative Gus Bilirakis is the vice chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He says he's working on bringing in VA officials to testify and has already requested a hearing.

GUS BILIRAKIS: You know, we're giving them the funding with regard to the benefits, and we have to hold them accountable. If people aren't doing their jobs, they need to be fired.

DICKERSON: The VA responded to the stories in a statement yesterday, saying they're prepared to assist any veteran or survivor who contacts them. Caitlin Dickerson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.