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Many of the veterans who took part in top-secret weapons tests more than 40 years ago have long suspected that their unusual health problems are linked to the biological agents and chemicals they were exposed to as part of Project 112 and Project SHAD.

They can't be sure, though, because the Department of Defense won't give them or their doctors any information about the substances they were exposed to. And because they don't have the information they need to qualify for the health care benefits available to other injured veterans, many of these veterans are going without sufficient medical care.

Some veterans might not even be aware they were exposed to weapons-grade chemicals during their service in the 1960s and '70s. Until 2001, the Defense Department would not even admit that the tests took place.

A House bill introduced by Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg and California Rep. Mike Thompson would change that by requiring every veteran who took part in Project 112 or Project SHAD be informed of the possibility of exposure.

And, at long last, it would also make them eligible for medical benefits and compensation.

Rehberg and Thompson both have repeatedly tried to get the Department of Defense to share information with these veterans so they could qualify for health benefits, and have gotten nowhere. It looks like a duly approved Congressional bill is the last hope for veterans to get the information and benefits they need before it's too late to do them any good.

The new bill received a hearing before a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee last week.

"This legislation will help set a standard of oversight for the federal government's treatment of our soldiers," Rehberg told the subcommittee. "We can't sweep the suffering of these veterans under the rug. We can fix the problem created 40 years ago, and this legislation will do that."

The hearing is sure to be only one of many needed to push this bill all the way through Congress. For the sake of every Project 112 and Project SHAD veteran now suffering from untreated medical ailments and still awaiting important medical information, we hope Rehberg and Thompson keep pushing. And that their colleagues on Capitol Hill act quickly, and in the best - and long-overdue - interests of these American heroes.

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