(U.S. Senate) – The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today unanimously passed bipartisan legislation spearheaded by Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) to offer Post-9/11 combat veterans, including those suffering from conditions caused by toxic exposures, access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care.
As leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senators Tester and Moran led the Committee in introducing the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act at a press conference yesterday as part of a three-step approach to expand access to health care for toxic-exposed veterans, establish a new process through which VA will determine future presumptive conditions, and provide overdue benefits to thousands of toxic-exposed veterans who have been long-ignored or forgotten.
“Today, we took a critical step toward fulfilling our obligations to toxic-exposed veterans with our bipartisan Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act,” said Chairman Tester. “This bill will connect more Post-9/11 veterans with the VA care they’ve earned to treat seen and unseen wounds of war, while moving the ball forward on addressing toxic exposure in the comprehensive way our veterans deserve. This is a necessary step in doing right by our nation’s veterans, and I urge my Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle to join us in passing this critical legislation that’ll help us deliver on that promise.”
“Post-9/11 veterans are the newest generation of American heroes to suffer from toxic exposures encountered during military service,” said Ranking Member Moran. “The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act is an important first step to make certain our veterans receive the care they need as a result of their service. I’m urging my colleagues to read our bill, to grow their understanding of this complex challenge, and to join our committee—every single member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee—in passing this bill to get one step closer to providing care and relief on one of the most pressing challenges facing veterans today.”
The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act received unanimous support by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee members:
“We make a promise to our veterans—that after their service ends, we’ll take care of them when they come home. But many who served post-9/11 are suffering from illness caused by toxic exposures, and have been unable to access the VA medical treatment they need,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “I am proud this Committee could work together on this important legislation to provide life-saving care to our nation’s heroes—but this is just the first step we need to take here. Supporting all of our veterans is a top priority for me, and I will never stop fighting to ensure Washington state veterans get the care and benefits they’ve earned.”
“If a country is worth anything, it is in how we treat those people who put their lives on the line to defend us,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “In the richest country in the history of the world, no veteran should go without the health care they need. The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act is a small step in the right direction to provide care for veterans who were exposed to life-threatening toxic substances. It is beyond unacceptable that we have exposed our brave military members to toxic burn pits and other dangerous substances on the battlefield, and have yet to compensate and care for their many related illnesses. We owe our veterans a tremendous debt of gratitude, one which we’ll never truly be able to repay. We must us honor the extraordinary sacrifice and bravery of our veterans and their families, and make certain they get the health care they need and deserve.”
“Providing health care for veterans who suffer from toxic exposure is a cost of going to war, one our country has to take responsibility for and recognize,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “On the Vets Committee, we have a long history of putting party politics aside to uphold our sacred obligation to work on behalf of the people who served this country. I’m confident that we will make progress on this bill, to take steps to provide health care for veterans suffering from the effects of toxic exposure.”
“This legislation will do right by our veterans and provide lifesaving care to those suffering from toxic exposure and related illnesses,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “Even after their heroic service to our nation, at least one million Post-9/11 combat veterans affected by toxic exposure are unacceptably excluded from rightly earned VA benefits and services. I’m proud to partner with Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran on this landmark effort to ensure these brave veterans get the care they need and urge its swift passage by Congress.”
“The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act takes necessary steps to ensure we continue to keep our commitments to those who have served our country,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “It is absolutely critical that we pass this legislation so all Post-9/11 veterans are able to access the care they need as they need it.”
“It’s our duty to take care of the brave men and women who selflessly fought to defend our nation, often in terrible conditions,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). “Many of our Veterans in West Virginia and across America who were exposed to open-air burn pits in the Middle East and Afghanistan are now facing health complications without healthcare coverage and benefits. While there is more work to be done, I’m proud the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has taken this important first step in recognizing and addressing the impact of toxic exposure to Veterans deployed overseas.”
“Arizona veterans exposed to harmful toxic substances have earned and deserve access to VA health care. Congress needs to deliver its promise to our veterans and pass this bipartisan legislation into law,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).
“Veterans who have served bravely in defense of our freedoms must have access to the health care that they need,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). “This important bill will ensure that all who have served post-9/11 have more access to critical VA services for illnesses related to toxic exposure during their service. While we still have more work to do to ensure that all veterans can access the high-quality health care that they deserve, today’s vote is an important step in the right direction.”
“The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act is an important step to delivering the specialized care veterans exposed to burn pits deserve,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). “The bipartisan support for this legislation is critical as we continue to build momentum in Congress toward ensuring they have access to the treatment and services they have earned.”
“Veterans should not be denied health care because of federal bureaucracy. We made a commitment to these men and women,” said Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). “Our bipartisan bill honors veterans’ service and expands VA health care for those exposed to toxic substance.”
“This legislation is a small step, in the right direction, to help make certain that veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances get the access to care they deserve,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “I look forward to joining my colleagues, as we continue to address the issue of toxic exposure, and better improve veterans’ access to quality healthcare.”
“As a Senator from North Carolina, I know firsthand the obstacles thousands of veterans who have been exposed to toxicants while serving have had to overcome, including many stationed at Camp Lejeune who spent decades fighting for proof of water contamination and fair treatment for the damages caused by the military,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). “One of my main priorities has been finding a solution so veterans are given a fair and uniform process to receive the health care and benefits to which they are entitled following exposure to toxicants during their service. That is why I introduced the TEAM Act that had widespread support, and I am proud this legislation includes multiple provisions from the TEAM Act. I want to thank Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran for working with members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to reach unanimous support so we can finally provide our veterans the treatment they deserve.”
“Thousands of America’s courageous veterans have faced serious health complications and illnesses related to toxic exposure during their service to our country,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). “With the sobering lessons of Agent Orange and Blue Water Navy Vietnam-era veterans in mind, we simply cannot wait decades to address the needs of America’s post-9/11 veterans who were also exposed to harmful toxins and waste. I’m glad to have worked with my committee colleagues to address the most immediate needs facing this newest generation of veterans. I will continue to lead on efforts with my colleagues to further lessen the burden on veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins, and to provide a pathway to the care and benefits they have earned.”
“Our veterans encountered countless dangers while bravely defending our nation, including extended exposure to toxic substances,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “The Volunteer State is home to heroes who served in every major conflict since WWII, and this bipartisan Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act will ensure that those exposed to toxic substances will receive the care they deserve.”
“Our history is defined by those who lay down their lives to protect and defend the United States,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “We will never be able to adequately repay them for their sacrifices, but we can do our best to take care of them. Burn pits were used to incinerate all sorts of waste, hazardous material, and chemicals at military sites throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, exposing our service members to toxic substances. This bill will improve health care and services for veterans exposed to the pits. The more combat veterans enrolled in this program, the earlier we can diagnose disease and prevent future illness. With today’s Committee vote, this bill passed the first hurdle here in the Senate. I will work to get this bill across the finish line so our veterans and heroes can receive the care they need and deserve.”
“There are millions of combat veterans who have served since the September 11th attacks and were exposed to burn pits or other sources of toxins while serving their country—this bill seeks to head off serious conditions before they manifest years later with little to no warning,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). “By doubling the enhanced eligibility period and allowing more veterans to enroll in VA health care, we are upholding the commitment we made to take care of our veterans. I hope this bill is passed by the full Senate without delay. When dealing with the possibility of saving a veteran’s life, nothing less is acceptable.”
Tester’s opening statement can be watched HERE.
A one-pager on the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act can be found HERE.