(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) today introduced bipartisan legislation to allow veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances in classified incidents to access their military records as they apply for disability benefits and VA health care.
Veterans who have health conditions that are linked to exposure to toxic substances during their military service are eligible to apply for disability benefits and health care from the VA. However, some missions and projects that resulted in their exposure to such substances remain classified by the Department of Defense, despite taking place decades ago. This policy prevents these veterans from accessing and using their service records to establish their service-connected condition and secure a disability rating that grants them eligible for care and benefits.
The Senators’ Gary Deloney and John Olsen Toxic Exposure Declassification Act will declassify the records of experiments or incidents that resulted in troops’ exposure to toxic substances.
Gary Deloney served in the U.S. Navy from 1962 to 1965. He was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal and his financial statements noted hazardous duty pay. Despite additional evidence that demonstrated proof of his missions during Vietnam, Mr. Deloney was unable to prove his exposure to Agent Orange. Tragically, he passed away while still waiting to receive a service connection designation from the Department of Veterans Affairs, even with the support from Sen. Moran, because records of his missions are classified.
“Often, the impacts of toxic exposure don’t appear until long after service members have returned home from the battlefield and military records are filed away,” said Moran. “It is my privilege to lead legislation that honors the life of Gary Deloney of Fort Scott who passed while working with my staff to access his classified military records that would have proven his service-connected illness. Our veterans and their families deserve the best our nation has to offer, and giving them access to their classified military records is the least we can do to make certain they receive the benefits they earned.”
Navy veteran John Olsen of Billings, Montana participated in Project SHAD in the mid-1960s, a series of tests to gauge the vulnerability of naval vessels and personnel to chemical and biological attacks, during which he was regularly exposed to a number of highly toxic carcinogens. However, Project SHAD records remain classified, preventing Olsen from receiving the VA disability benefits and care to which he would otherwise be entitled. Olsen has battled cancer four times.
“Mr. Olsen served our nation with distinction and honor and the fact that the Defense Department is making it impossible for him to get health care is totally unacceptable,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This bipartisan bill holds our government accountable and will allow Mr. Olsen and many others to apply for the health care and disability benefits they’ve earned. This bill does right by veterans who have sacrificed the most for their nation.”
Veterans who were exposed to toxic substances face greater chances of suffering from cancer and other health issues.
“The records of my service during Project SHAD are still classified. That means that I’m not eligible for disability benefits and I can’t receive the care and benefits for being exposed to some of the most toxic carcinogens known to man,” said Olsen. “I want to thank Jon Tester for stepping up and introducing this legislation so I can get the health care I fought so hard for.”
“Gary loved his time in the service and the friends he made there,” said Charyl Deloney, wife of veteran Gary Deloney. “Up until Gary passed from cancer, Senator Moran's office was working with us to obtain the classified documents that would prove his exposure to Agent Orange. He would be honored to have this legislation named after him to help future veterans in a similar situation get the benefits they were promised, and I am thankful that Senator Moran is continuing to work on this in Gary’s memory.”
The Gary Deloney and John Olsen Toxic Exposure Declassification Act can be found online HERE.