In this Q5 U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) talks about veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances and the need to make military records more accessible.

In this Q5 U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) talks about veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances and the need to make military records more accessible.

1. Sen. Moran, why have you and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana introduced bipartisan legislation to allow veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances in classified incidents to access their military records when they apply for disability benefits and VA care?
Veterans who were exposed to toxic substances may suffer from health conditions stemming from that exposure. If they can prove they were exposed during missions while serving in the military, they may be eligible to apply for benefits from the VA. However, some missions that resulted in exposure to toxic substances remain classified by the Department of Defense. This creates the unfortunate circumstance where a veteran is unable to substantiate the link between their military service and toxic exposure, and without that information proving exposure they are prevented from possibly receiving benefits and care that they’ve earned.
My legislation with Sen. Tester – The Gary Deloney and John Olsen Toxic Exposure Declassification Act – would help declassify the Department of Defense records that help prove the link between a veteran’s service and their health problems.
 
2. How would the legislation honor Gary Deloney? How was he affected by the policy to keep certain records classified?
My staff was assisting Mr. Deloney with constituent casework at the time of his death.
It is my privilege to lead this bill in honor of the life of Gary Deloney of Fort Scott, Kansas, 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.
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-connected designation from the Department of Veterans Affairs, even with my support, because records of his missions are classified.
 
3. Why do some of these missions and exposure to toxic substances remain classified after so many years and what would this Act call on the Secretary of Defense to do?
The Department of Defense has its own criteria by which it assesses the classification of missions, and it’s unclear why specific missions remain classified.
My legislation, however, would require the department to declassify certain classified information proving a link to toxic exposure barring the secretary’s determination that the information would immediately threaten the security of the United States.
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.
 
4. Do you have an estimate of how many veterans may have already been negatively impacted by this longstanding policy? If this legislation passes, can veterans’ lives be saved?
It’s difficult to estimate since this policy has to do with classified information.
As a result, we unfortunately do not know how many veterans’ records would prove a link to toxic exposure.
But, veterans should at least have the opportunity to establish that link.
It’s more than plausible that declassification of certain records would open up benefits to a veteran that could save his or her life or, at the very least, improve his or her quality of life.
 
5. Why is this issue very important to you?
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.
Our veterans and their families deserve the best our nation has to offer.
And, whether it’s a study of the health risks and symptoms of exposure for future generations or giving them access to their classified military records, we owe it to our heroes to take care of their families and them and to make certain they receive the benefits they earned.

Sen. Jerry Moran is a United States Senator for Kansas and member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

— Rimsie McConiga