Tester Statement on VA Establishing Three New Presumptive Conditions for Toxic Exposure Veterans

(U.S. Senate) – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced its plans to begin processing disability benefits claims for veterans suffering from asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis as a result of their military service in Southwest Asia, following sustained efforts from Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester who released the following statement:

“Today’s announcement is great news for veterans suffering from conditions associated with their service in Southwest Asia, who have been denied justice for far too long. VA Secretary McDonough has made clear he is committed to working with Congress on a comprehensive toxic exposure framework that is timely, grounded in science, transparent, and responsive to the needs of every man and woman impacted by the effects of toxic exposure, and I thank him for expanding coverage to three conditions covered under my comprehensive COST of War Act. Together, we are delivering on our promise to care for those who stood in harm’s way to serve this country, and I encourage every eligible veteran to apply for their earned benefits as quickly as possible.”

VA’s rulemaking will address veterans who were deployed to the Southwest Asia theater of operations beginning Aug. 2, 1990 to the present, or Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, or Djibouti beginning Sept. 19, 2001 to the present. Those operations includes Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea and the airspace above these locations. This regulation will be legally effective on August 5, however veterans can start applying today.

A longtime fighter for the expansion of care and benefits for toxic exposure veterans, Tester unveiled his Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021 earlier this year to 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. His legislation would also establish a new science-based and veteran-focused process for the establishment of new presumptive conditions—including asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis—and would provide benefits to thousands of toxic exposure veterans who have been long-ignored or forgotten.

In March, Tester joined Ranking Member Jerry Moran in sending a bipartisan letter calling on VA Secretary Denis McDonough to provide the Department’s estimated timeline for completing initial processing of Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act claims, and plans for adhering to the Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs consent decree and adding Parkinsonism, bladder cancer, and hypothyroidism to the list of presumptions through the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.