(U.S. Senate) – The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today considered, and unanimously passed, Chairman Jon Tester’s Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021—landmark legislation to provide generations of veterans suffering from illnesses related to their toxic exposures benefits and health care for the first time in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) history.
“I’m glad my Committee colleagues on both sides of the aisle agreed today on the need to pass comprehensive toxic exposure legislation that meets the needs of veterans of all generations,” said Tester. “This is a necessary step in laying down a baseline that is veterans-focused, consistent, science-based, and bipartisan. It’s time we pay the hidden costs of war. Veterans have waited decades for VA and Congress to act and they can’t afford to wait any longer.”
A longtime fighter for the expansion of care and benefits for toxic exposure veterans, Tester unveiled his COST of War Act yesterday that recognizes the federal government’s responsibility to provide health care and disability compensation to veterans fighting the effects of toxic exposure connected to their military service. This legislation would allow all veterans who were at risk of toxic exposure, including 3.5 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, to obtain immediate and lifelong access to health care from VA. It would also establish a new science-based and veteran-focused process for the establishment of new presumptive conditions, and would provide benefits to thousands of toxic exposure veterans who have been long-ignored or forgotten, including Agent Orange veterans suffering from hypertension.
The Committee also considered the following VA nominees and bills backed by Tester:
- Donald M. Remy—Nominee to be Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs
- Gen. Matthew T. Quinn, USA, Ret.—Nominee to be Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs
- Maryanne Donaghy—Nominee to be Assistant Secretary for Accountability and Whistleblower Protection
- Patricia Ross—Nominee to be Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs
- Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act of 2021—Bipartisan legislation authored by Tester to expand in-state tuition eligibility for the families of veterans who die from service-connected disabilities. The bill would require public colleges and universities that receive GI Bill benefits to provide in-state tuition rates for students using the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistant program, reducing the out-of-pocket education cost for surviving spouses and children.
- Ensuring Survivors Benefits during COVID-19 Act of 2021—Legislation to ensure family members of veterans who passed away due to COVID-19 with an underlying service connected health issue receive survivors’ and dependents’ benefits.
- Veterans’ Disability Compensation COLA Act of 2021—Legislation to increase the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans.
- Hire Veteran Health Heroes Act of 2021—Legislation to create a program that will help actively recruit medical personnel, who are within one year of completing their military service, to remain in federal health care departments including VA.
- Bill Authorizing GAO Study on Race and Ethnic Disparities—Legislation to require the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on disparities associated with race and ethnicity with respect to certain benefits administered by VA.
At a confirmation hearing earlier this month, Tester pressed nominee Donald Remy on major challenges facing VA’s number two official—including rolling-out the Electronic Health Record Modernization, developing a framework for the Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission, bringing the VA workforce back into the office post-pandemic, and working to advance veteran interests on the Veterans Affairs-Defense Department Joint Executive Committee.