Lawmakers Promise To Take Action After NPR's Mustard Gas Exposure Report NPR reported the VA failed to keep its promise of benefits to thousands of WWII veterans exposed to mustard gas, and an unknown set of U.S. military tests singled out minority soldiers by race.

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

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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.

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