U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced bipartisan legislation this week (S. 726) 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.
“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,” Sen. Moran said. “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 the classified military records that would have proven his exposure to Agent Orange and 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.”
Veterans who were exposed to toxic substances face greater chances of suffering from cancer and other health issues. 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 having taken place decades ago.
This policy prevents these veterans from accessing and using their service records to establish their service-connected conditions and securing a disability rating that grants them eligible for care and benefits. The Gary Deloney and John Olsen Toxic Exposure Declassification Act would call on the Secretary of Defense to declassify the records of experiments or incidents that resulted in troops’ exposure to toxic substances and could be used in a veteran’s claim for benefits.
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.
“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.”