Thousands of WWII veterans were exposed to mustard gas. (via Flickr)

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill is proposing a bill to compensate World War II veterans affected by mustard gas experimentation.

According to NPR, an estimated 60,000 WWII Army and Navy troops were exposed to the gas while preparing for the possibility of chemical warfare. Exposure to mustard gas can cause leukemia, skin cancer and respiratory problems.

To date, only 40 veterans have received reparations, and nearly 90 percent of claims have been denied because of lack of evidence.

NPR reports:

The vets were used in classified experiments conducted by the U.S. military, and were sworn to secrecy about their participation for a half-century.

Last year, an NPR investigation found the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to notify thousands of mustard gas test subjects of their eligibility to apply for compensation — and that it routinely denied claims from veterans who qualified. In many cases, the VA has said veterans don’t have enough evidence of their participation in the tests to get benefits — even though the tests were kept off official records.

McCaskill is naming the bill the Arla Harrell Act, after a man thought to be the last surviving Missourian who served as a mustard gas test subject. Harrell, 89, lives in a nursing home. His repeated claims for compensation have been denied by the VA, as recently as last month.

The bill calls for the VA and the Department of Defense to establish a new policy for processing claims for mustard gas exposures, and to reconsider all previously denied claims. In doing so, the bill says the VA should presume that veterans were exposed to the toxic agents “unless either agency can definitely prove otherwise.”

The legislation, if passed, would be a bittersweet victory.

–Posted by Clara Romeo

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