WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson (CA-5), Don Young (AK-01), Walter B. Jones (NC-03), and Roger Marshall (KS-01) introduced bipartisan legislation that would declassify documents related to any known incident of toxic exposure that affected members of our Armed Forces.
On July 14th the House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. Missing from the bill was a bipartisan amendment introduced by Reps. Thompson, Don Young, and Walter B. Jones would have declassified a 50-year-old DoD project that exposed servicemembers to biological and chemical weapons. “Congress is complicit by not considering the amendment in the Defense Bill that would have declassified documents related to the decades old project called Project 112,” said Thompson. “These veterans served honorably for the security of our nation and we must not stop helping them find justice.”
Thompson’s stand-alone bill, H.R. 3327, the Jack Alderson Toxic Exposure Declassification Act, would require the Department of Defense to declassify documents related to any known incident in which no less than 100 members of the Armed Forces were exposed to a toxic substance.
“Existing policy prevents veterans from accessing their service records because many of the files have been locked away in a vault and someone hid the key,” said Thompson. “After their military service ended and they needed their records to establish service-connected conditions to determine care and benefits with Veterans Affairs, they couldn’t provide adequate documents because DoD had not made it its priority to disclose them.”
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 Department of Veterans Affairs. However, some military operations and projects that resulted in their exposure toxic substances remain classified by DoD, despite having taken place decades ago.
“We have a duty to make certain our servicemembers’ health is protected both in and out of service,” said Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). “I am pleased my colleagues in the House are continuing our efforts to assist veterans struggling to access classified military records that may prove their exposure to toxic substances. These records not only provide veterans with the necessary documentation to receive the benefits they deserve, but will also help future generations of servicemembers.”
This piece of legislation introduced today is the House companion to Senators Moran (R-KS) and Tester’s (D-MT) bill, the Gary Deloney and John Olsen Toxic Exposure Declassification Act.
“Our courageous veterans deserve the best possible healthcare, not just when they return from service, but throughout their entire lives,” said Congressman Jones. “Unfortunately, that is impossible when pertinent military documents regarding toxic exposure are classified. It is time we change this policy so our veterans can receive the proper treatment for their service-connected conditions.”
“Safeguarding and preserving the rights of our currently-serving military men and women and our veterans should be a priority of every Member of Congress. As a physician, I know the importance of having access to all information relating to the health of a patient. Our veterans deserve that courtesy and necessity. Members of our Armed Forces should, at the very least, be given the information on any potential health concerns they are predisposed to during their time of service,” said Congressman Marshall. “When it comes to toxic exposure, the effects often manifest themselves much later. I am grateful for the opportunity to help introduce this legislation with my colleagues, which will make stronger and more complete our mission to better the care of every person who has served and is serving."