- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2016

NEOSHO, Mo. (AP) - A World War II veteran who says he was exposed to mustard gas experiments at a one-time southwestern Missouri military camp has had his disability claim denied for the fourth time in two decades.

Arla Harrell’s claim was denied April 12 by the Department of Veterans Affairs. A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Maj. Benjamin Sakrisson, said the government has no evidence mustard gas exposure to anyone at the now-razed Camp Crowder, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/25qQ8Dv ) reported.

But that appears to be contradicted by information presented in recent days to VA Secretary Robert McDonald about chemical weapons at Crowder, where Harrell has insisted he was subjected to gas testing after he entered the Army in mid-1945. VA officials are “digging into this case right now, and are working with (the Department of Defense),” McDonald said Thursday.

Harrell’s children believe their father’s lifelong health problems, notably in his lungs, were from exposure to mustard gas. Now 89 and in a nursing home in Macon, Missouri, about 180 miles northwest of St. Louis, Harrell cannot speak and is visited daily by his wife, who with her children submitted his latest claim.

National Public Radio reported in November that it had evidence that 3,900 WWII veterans were exposed to mustard gas in Army experiments, six times the number the VA recognized.

Two Army Corps of Engineer reports supplied to McDonald in recent days included an eyewitness account of a mustard gas experiment in a “gas chamber” at Camp Crowder similar to one described by Harrell for decades.

The reports, done as part of a nationwide campaign to clean up abandoned military camps, also include photographs of soldiers at Camp Crowder wearing gas masks, as well as other references to chemical weapons exercises at the camp.

The Corps of Engineers documents include accounts of a 1994 interview with another former Camp Crowder soldier, Jack Wood, who described participating in gas chamber experiments similar to how Harrell has described them to his family.

Wood died several years ago.

Arlie Harrell’s three daughters and a son say the acknowledgment from his government that he is telling the truth is as important as any benefits from a successful claim.

It’s important, daughter Beverly Howe said, that “my father could understand that somebody finally believes him.”

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com


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