At Hearing, Tester Announces ‘bold next step’ to Address Military Toxic Exposure

Chairman confirms committee’s plans for comprehensive toxic exposure legislation that is “veteran-focused, consistent, and science-based”, Six Tester-backed bills to provide veterans benefits and care gain momentum

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(U.S. Senate) – At a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee legislative hearing today, Chairman Jon Tester announced the committee’s “bold” plans to take up comprehensive legislation to provide generations of veterans suffering from military toxic exposure their earned benefits and care.

“While each legislative victory is a step in the right direction, it is clear that our next step must be bold—veterans deserve nothing less,” said Tester. “That step should be comprehensive legislation that is veteran-focused, consistent, and science-based…We must provide health care and benefits to all veterans suffering from the effects of toxic exposure: past, present, and future. It is a cost of war—pure and simple. And I’m confident that we can do so because this is not a partisan issue—it’s a matter of doing what’s right for the people who served this country.”

Tester continued, “There are currently a number of bills [to address toxic exposure] and they all have good points. We need to put those bills together in a comprehensive package that I hope to mark-up in this committee before Memorial Day.”

The committee considered a number of bills during the hearing and received constructive feedback from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials and stakeholders on measures to address toxic exposure, improve access to benefits, and provide quality care for the nation’s veterans. Among the legislation considered by the committee, the following six bills were spearheaded by the Chairman:

Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans of 2021

In his continued push to provide Vietnam-era veterans their earned benefits and care, Tester’s Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act would require VA to add Hypertension and Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance (MGUS) to the list of conditions presumed to be caused by Agent Orange and tactical herbicide exposure. Adding Hypertension and MGUS to the list of presumptive conditions would provide relief for more than 490,000 Vietnam veterans who have waited decades for scientific evidence to support their claims for health care and benefits.

Legislation Supporting Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange in Thailand

Tester’s bipartisan legislation would support veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War-era by allowing them the opportunity to prove toxic exposure in order to qualify for VA benefits.

Veterans Claim Transparency Act of 2021

Last April, VA eliminated the critical 48-hour review period—a decades-old practice allowing veterans and their representatives time to review benefits determinations prior to VA’s final decision. Tester’s bipartisan Veterans Claim Transparency Act would reinstate the review period to ensure accredited Veteran Service Organizations, attorneys, and claims agents have the ability to review and correct benefits determinations.

Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Reform Act of 2021

Tester’s bipartisan Department of Veterans Affairs IT Reform Act would improve information technology systems and management at VA in an effort to bring 21st century and benefits to veterans across the country.

Caring for Survivors Act of 2021

To better support veteran families in Montana and across the country, Tester’s Caring for the Survivors and Families of Veterans Act would expand monthly Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits to more surviving spouses and family members.

Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act of 2021

Tester’s Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act would require public colleges and universities that receive GI Bill benefits to provide in-state tuition rates for students using Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance program. Named after U.S. Army Colonel John McHugh, this legislation would help reduce the out-of-pocket education costs for surviving spouses and children.

The Committee will hold a markup in the coming weeks to potentially amend and vote to send these bills to the full Senate.

The Senator’s opening statement as prepared for delivery can be found HERE.

Tester’s full Q&A is available HERE.

More on Tester’s toxic exposure efforts can be found HERE.