(U.S. Senate) – At a joint Senate and House Veterans’ Committees hearing today with leading Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), Chairman Jon Tester emphasized the need for Congress to work together in a bipartisan, bicameral way to codify comprehensive toxic exposure reforms for veterans suffering from conditions related to their military toxic exposures.
“Since I introduced the COST of War Act last year, we’ve seen a lot of progress,” said Chairman Tester. “VA created a new presumptive process that has added a dozen new presumptions, including the nine announced yesterday by the President. To put that in perspective, over the previous eight years only four conditions were added, and three of those—bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and parkinsonism—were only added because of a Tester amendment.”
He continued, “In my view, we can’t just rely on the Executive Branch—Congress also has a Constitutional duty to do its job as the Legislative Branch on behalf of our veterans. But for us to get comprehensive toxic exposure legislation done—which we all want—the political games, the public posturing, and the questioning of motives needs to stop. If we are going to fulfill our obligation to veterans, we need to roll up our sleeves and do our jobs, and we need to work together in a bipartisan and bicameral way to deliver the results toxic-exposed veterans have earned and deserve.”
As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a Committee member since 2007, Tester has been a staunch advocate for delivering relief to generations of toxic-exposed veterans. For years, he has authored, introduced, negotiated, and passed historic laws to provide long-overdue care and benefits to tens of thousands of veterans suffering from conditions related to their toxic exposure. Working with various Veterans Service Organizations and advocates, Tester has led the fight on the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, the Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act which established presumptions for bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and parkinsonism, and the Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act. He continues to spearhead bipartisan legislation and additional measures in the Senate to deliver all generations of toxic-exposed veterans their needed benefits and care.
At the hearing, the Committees heard from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) on the organization’s support for passing a comprehensive legislative package with toxic exposure reforms, modernizing Veterans Benefits Administration information technology and processes, and improving the VA claims process for survivors of military sexual trauma (MST).
The second panel included presentations from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), American Veterans (AMVETS), National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), Blinded Veterans of Association (BVA), Black Veterans Empowerment Council (BVEC), and National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA).
As Chairman, Tester is also leading the charge to tackle the claims backlog and increase transparency over the claims process through his bipartisan Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2021. To better support survivors of MST, he recently reintroduced the Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act—bipartisan, bicameral legislation to improve MST survivors’ access to care and benefits.
Tester’s Q&A can be found HERE.