(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester held a roundtable discussion today with Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), stakeholders, and veterans’ advocates to address longstanding issues associated with the effects of toxic exposures on our nation’s servicemembers and veterans.
At the roundtable, Tester questioned Veterans Health Administration Chief Consultant on Post-Deployment Health Services, Dr. Patricia Hastings, on the Administration’s repeated delays in adding Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions.
“The National Academy of Medicine says we should be covering [bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, hypertension, and Parkinson’s like symptoms] and we have yet to get a decision of those four presumptives,” Tester addressed to Dr. Hastings. “Tell me, when we get these burn pit studies back, what’s going to actually make one damn bit of difference whether we’re going to cover veterans exposed to burn pit toxins?”
“I do believe with what they will be looking at that we’ll have a much better understanding of what the health effects there are from airborne hazards and burn pits,” replied Dr. Hastings. “I’m looking forward to that report and that will give us more information, and I absolutely agree that these things take too long.”
Tester continued, “I would sure hope VA acts a little differently if the National Academy of Medicine comes out with something that shows that there is a direct connection between the conditions that these veterans have and exposure to burn pits. I think it’s obvious, but I’m not a doctor—I’m just a dirt farmer.”
The Senator also engaged stakeholders in a constructive dialogue regarding connecting more servicemembers and veterans exposed to toxins during their military service with health care and benefits. The conversation centered around three bills aimed at connecting more individuals with health care and benefits—including the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act of 2019, Veterans Exposure to Toxic Substances (VETS) Act, and K2 Veterans Toxic Exposure Accountability Act of 2020.
Tester’s roundtable hosted VA officials, advocates, and representatives from various Veterans Service Organizations including the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), AMVETS, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), BurnPits360, TAPS, Independence Fund, and Stronghold Freedom Foundation.
Tester has fought tirelessly in Congress to provide veterans with the treatment and benefits they have earned. In March, he led more than 30 Senate colleagues in introducing the bicameral Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act of 2020, which would require VA to “do its job” and provide benefits for veterans suffering from four diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. And he has continuously called on the Trump Administration to provide long-overdue health care and benefits to Vietnam-era veterans living with exposure to Agent Orange.
As Ranking Member, Tester also successfully fought to include his Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health (OATH) Act into the annual must-pass defense bill, bipartisan legislation requiring DOD to track servicemembers exposures to toxic chemicals in their individual medical records. And, his bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 extending VA benefits to veterans who served off the shores of Vietnam, was signed into law on June 26, 2019.