(U.S. Senate) – At a press conference today, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) unveiled their bipartisan Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act—landmark legislation 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.
“Today, we took a critical step in our bipartisan effort to do right by all toxic-exposed veterans across the country with the introduction of our Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act,” said Chairman Tester. “This landmark bill will allow us to connect a generation of burn pit veterans with the care they’ve earned, while moving the ball forward on addressing toxic exposure in the comprehensive way our veterans deserve. Our work here is just beginning, and together we will keep fighting to deliver quality care and benefits to the men and women who stood in harm’s way to protect our country.”
“Post-9/11 veterans are the newest generation of American heroes to suffer from toxic exposures incurred 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 appreciate the entire Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for working together to craft this consequential legislation to care for our servicemembers who put their life and health on line for their country.”
Approximately 3.5 million Post-9/11 combat veterans may have experienced some level of exposure to burn pits during their service—many of whom are living with undiagnosed illnesses linked to military toxic exposures—and nearly one-third of those veterans are currently unable to access VA care. Among its many provisions, the Senators’ bipartisan Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act would:
- Expand the period of health care eligibility for combat veterans who served after September 11, 2001 from five years following discharge to ten years;
- Provide a one-year open enrollment period for any Post-9/11 combat veterans who are outside their 10-year window;
- Establish an outreach plan to contact veterans who did not enroll during their initial period of enhanced eligibility;
- Direct VA to incorporate a clinical screening regarding a veteran’s potential exposures and symptoms commonly associated with toxic substances;
- Mandate toxic exposure related education and training for healthcare and benefits personnel at VA; and
- Strengthen federal research on toxic exposures.
This bipartisan legislation is unanimously supported by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which includes Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.).
It also has strong backing from the nation’s leading Veterans Service Organizations, including Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Wounded Warrior Project, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The American Legion, and Military Officers Association of America.
As leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senators Tester and Moran have been dedicated to identifying a path forward for outstanding toxic exposure issues, and remain committed to following through on the country’s promise to provide timely care and benefits to all generation of exposed veterans. The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act is the first 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.
A one-pager on the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act can be found HERE.