By Stephanie Kalota
Founder, Veteran Legislative Voice
On February 1, 2022, Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, introduced a bill to his own committee called the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act. This bill was intended to improve health care and services for veterans exposed to toxic substances, and for other purposes. This bill would essentially:
- Expand eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs health care for all veterans by removing health care eligibility from five years to ten years. This is very important because many veterans have been reluctant to ask the VA anything because of their reputation. This reluctance makes it more difficult to obtain a VA disability and can worsen their condition by going without treatment.
- Incorporate screening to help determine potential exposures to toxic substances during active military, naval, air, or space service as part of a healthcare screening provided by VA. My concern is that this specifically excludes duty or reserve service members, frustratingly doing their weekend and annual training in locations that may have been compromised by toxic exposures like PFAS.
- Create training for Department of Veterans Affairs staff regarding veterans exposed to toxic substances. This way, medical professionals could better treat veterans about issues that may arise from exposure. It also creates a possibility that veteran professionals are better trained to link to the service connection in terms of VA disability.
- Collect and maintain data for analysis and reporting on treatment, mortality, health trend studies, study of cancer rates. This is something that could be very vital in treating veterans exposed to toxic substances. This type of analysis would also be the subject of an annual report to the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs. These reports leave out any exposures in the United States, as they specifically include exposures to deployments only in Southwest Asia, such as gas leaks in Hawaii, PFAS at other military bases, Agent Orange and Camp Lejeune.
Overall, this bill looks good and could improve the lives of many veterans. But this bill does not include any presumption of connection to the service, despite the amount of research already collected on them.
There are veterans who have already died from toxic exposures; it is too late for them but we must fight for those who are still alive and who need our help.
Reach out to your elected officials and tell them they need presumptive terms passed for them, specifically push for Senate Bill 952.