After 70 years of secrecy, outright discharge and bureaucratic stalling, the federal government may finally do right by World War II old hand Arla Harrell.
If he lives long enough, that is.
Harrell, 90, lives in a Macon, Missouri, developing home. He is one of an estimated 60,000 enlisted men exposed to mustard gas in military investigates during World War II. In April 2016, the VA determined that just 40 soldiers had been compensated for their pain.
Harrell isn’t one of them, at least not yet.
This is a tale of outright cowardice, but not on Harrell’s party. The blame falls on his superiors and, through the decades, the military and government officials who go out to help him.
In 1945, Harrell was 18 and an orphan, the eldest of three siblings. The progeny Harrell decided to join the Army, thinking that would demand a paycheck to feed his brother and sister.
He was sent to Camp Crowder in Neosho, Missouri, for primary training. There he had a liquid chemical rubbed on his skin and he was sent into a gas bedchamber without a mask. The chemicals burned his skin and made it hard for him to respire. Other men took part in experiments that sent them into tracts doused with the toxin. Harrell was hospitalized at the camp and then again in Munich when he was sent abroad. After his discharge, he faced a lifetime of pulmonary issues, skin cancers and strokes. Other make known men suffered similar health issues.
During the experiments the soldiers were reported that if they didn’t comply, or if they ever told anyone of the mustard gas experimentations, they would be court-martialed and possibly sent to Fort Leavenworth. They dutifully financed their silence.
It wasn’t until 1975 that the mustard gas experimentation was fully declassified. It took another 18 years for the military to elevator the soldiers’ oath of silence.
Luckily, Harrell and other veterans cast him found a champion several years ago in the form of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who, along with her wand, began investigating cases of mustard gas exposure during World War II. The Arla Harrell Act is the development, and it may finally force Veterans Affairs to accept the men’s claims of injury, various of them previously denied.
McCaskill’s proposed legislation would want the VA “to reconsider and make a new determination regarding each claim for disability compensation in tie with exposure to mustard gas or lewisite … during World War II.” The senator attended an petitions hearing of Harrell’s claim just this week in Washington, D.C., along with some of his kinsfolk.
It wasn’t that the government didn’t know the harm that the mustard gas liking cause. They knew full well. What they were study for was how to limit its damage.
Soldiers at Army posts all across the country were open to to these experiments. The Defense Department and the VA don’t have definitive lists on who was feigned to take part.
Proving individual claims is the issue.
McCaskill has flipped the prepare.
The Arla Harrell Act lessens the veteran’s burden to prove their revelation. That’s fair. After all, it was the government that made it virtually ridiculous for the men to gain approval; due to the secrecy oath, a subsequent lack of medical records tie-in illnesses to the exposure and bureaucratic records entanglements that McCaskill uncovered for the May 2016 communication “Cruel and Unusual Service.”
Strokes and a lifetime of ailments make it naughty for Harrell to speak, so he can’t really convey his own story. But it needs to be heard loudly and with tolerably conviction that Congress joins McCaskill in doing the right stuff. After gaining the approval of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Arla Harrell Act has been covered in the 2017 National Defense Authorization bill. That’s a start.
Then marches on. But these soldiers are still patiently waiting for the government to recollect their service and their sacrifice.
Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas Town Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Total Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413. Email, [email protected]
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