WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, the daughter of a World War II veteran, today announced a new bill that would honor Arla Harrell—a Missouri World War II veteran intentionally exposed to mustard gas—by naming a Missouri post office for him. This proposal comes on the heels of new data from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that shows that the agency has granted nearly $2 million in benefits to World War II veterans intentionally exposed to mustard gas since McCaskill’s two-year battle on behalf of those servicemembers resulted in President Trump signing McCaskill’s Arla Harrell Act into law last year.
“I hope this is another way we can remind Missourians for generations to come of the sacrifices Arla made for our country,” said McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Postal Service. “I was honored for the chance to tell Arla his government believed him and to get justice for him and his family before he passed, and I’m proud to take this additional step to honor his service.”
McCaskill’s new bill would rename the U.S. Postal Service office located in Macon, Mo. as the Arla W. Harrell Post Office. Mr. Harrell lived in Macon before he passed away earlier this year.
An investigative report by McCaskill demonstrated that the VA was denying roughly 90 percent of mustard gas claims between 2005 and 2015. During World War II, thousands of U.S. servicemen were exposed to mustard agents through secret U.S. military experiments. By the end of the war, 60,000 servicemen had been human subjects in the military’s chemical defense research program, with an estimated 4,000 of them receiving high levels of exposure to mustard agents. For decades, these servicemen were under explicit orders not to discuss their toxic exposure with their doctors or even their families. The U.S. military did not fully acknowledge its role in the testing program until the last of the experiments was declassified in 1975. The military did not lift the oath of secrecy until the early 1990s.
Following her investigative report, McCaskill battled what she called a “decades-long record of ineptitude and failure” at the VA, enlisted the support of Republican and Democratic colleagues, and rallied veterans service organizations in support of her bill. She successfully pressured President Trump’s first VA Secretary David Shulkin in support of the legislation and met with President Trump’s second VA Secretary Robert Wilkie during his confirmation process to secure his commitment to swift implementation of the Arla Harrell Act.