Tester, Blackburn, Klobuchar Leading Effort for Veterans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals

Senators introduce bipartisan Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health Act

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are leading the effort to ensure that servicemembers and veterans exposed to Occupational Environmental Health (OEH) hazards in the line of duty get the necessary medical care and benefits they need.

The Senators today introduced the Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health (OATH) Act, bipartisan legislation that requires the Department of Defense to track active duty military personnel and veterans’ exposed to harmful chemicals in a system. 

Currently, individuals who have been exposed to toxic chemicals such as mold, caustic fumes, open air burn pits, and airborne chemicals during military operations are not being properly documented and tracked by the Defense Department or VA. Out of a total of more than three million post-9/11 veterans, only 175,000 veterans and service members are registered under the VA’s Airborne and Open Burn Pit Registry. 

“Far more of our post-9/11 veterans have been exposed to toxic chemicals than we’ve accounted for,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The first step in providing them the health care they need and have earned is ensuring we’re tracking and monitoring servicemembers affected by toxic exposure. Our bipartisan bill requires the proper documentation of these illnesses so that we may better serve those who have served us.” 

“The passage of the OATH Act will mark a positive change in the lives of all our military men and women who are exposed to environmental hazards while in the line of duty,” said Senator Blackburn. “Currently, service members’ records are missing important health and exposure information that should be tracked. This legislation will ensure that a service member’s health file notes all instances of dangerous exposure, and make that record available to service members and their doctors.”

“During the Vietnam War, the U.S. sprayed 80 million liters of Agent Orange, but it took the government years to recognize its devastating health effects on our servicemembers and to begin providing the treatment they needed—we have to learn from those mistakes,” said Senator Klobuchar. “The OATH Act will ensure that active duty military personnel and veterans can accurately document toxins they were exposed to while serving our country at home or abroad so they can get the proper help they need.”

“Veterans who have been exposed to environmental and occupational hazards like burn pits need accurately documented service and medical records in order to get their full earned health care and benefits,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “The OATH Act would require the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to include all available information on such exposures as part of their electronic health records, impacting not only their medical treatment but also potential VA disability claims in the future. DAV greatly appreciates Senator Tester introducing the OATH Act and looks forward to working with him to enact this and other legislation to bring justice to those exposed to airborne toxins from burn pits and other hazards.”

Specifically, the OATH Act:

·         Requires the DoD to input any OEH exposure into the servicemember’s records while deployed, following the servicemember throughout his or her career and into veteran status; and

·         Mandates that the DoD and VA retroactively update their health records based on information contained in the Burn Pit Registry. 

The bill is endorsed by Reserve Officers Association, Association of the United States Navy, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and Air Force Sergeants Association.