Tester, Blackburn, Klobuchar Toxic Exposure Bill Successfully Included in Must-Pass Defense Legislation

Senators’ bipartisan Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health Act clears key hurdle, heads to Senate floor

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) today announced the inclusion of their bipartisan Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health Act (OATH) in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — a must-pass annual defense bill that the Senate plans to vote on next week. 

The Senators introduced their legislation last month, requiring the Department of Defense (DoD) to track active duty military personnel and veterans’ exposed to Occupational Environmental Health (OEH) hazards in the line of duty, ensuring that they get the necessary medical care and benefits they need.

“Far more of our post-9/11 veterans have been exposed to toxic chemicals than we’ve accounted for,” said Senator Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “With the inclusion of our bipartisan bill in this must-pass annual defense bill, we are ensuring that servicemembers living with the wounds of war get proper treatment. We did our part— now it’s up to the full Senate to push this bill over the finish line so veterans can get the health care and benefits they earned.” 

“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.”

“Investing in our national security means investing in the health of those on our front lines,” said Senator Klobuchar. “Including the OATH Act in the NDAA 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. We owe it to our brave servicemembers to provide them the healthcare and benefits they deserve.”

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. 

The OATH Act includes the following provisions that will be considered by the Senate: 

·         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 supported by Disabled American Veterans, Reserve Officers Association, Association of the United States Navy, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America & Air Force Sergeants Association.