Lawmakers seize ‘historic opportunity’ to help veterans suffering from toxic exposure – US
Hearings this week
Lawmakers Seize ‘Historic Opportunity’ to Help Veterans Suffering from Toxic Exposure
WASHINGTON – The House and Senate are making coordinated efforts to help veterans suffering from illnesses suspected of being caused by toxic exposure during overseas deployments.
Lawmakers introduced two dozen bills this session of Congress to address the difficulty that these veterans face in obtaining benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees announced Tuesday that they will hold coordinated hearings to consider all bills.
The Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday and the House hearing is scheduled for May 5.
“It is essential that we hear from seasoned experts and stakeholders as we determine the best way to care for all veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances, no matter where and when they served,” said the representing Mark Takano D-Calif., Chairman of the House Committee.
Throughout the 1990s and the wars that followed 9/11, the military used open pits to burn garbage, jet fuel, paint, medical waste, plastics and more. Veterans diagnosed with cancers, breathing problems and lung disease at a young age have blamed exposure to toxic fumes. However, the VA argued that there was insufficient evidence to support these claims.
Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., Chairman of the Senate Committee, said the moment was a “historic opportunity” to address the issue of military exposure to toxics. Some lawmakers have introduced targeted legislation on the issue this session because of support they believe will come from the White House.
Biden said he believed the toxic smoke was responsible for the brain cancer that killed his son Beau in 2015. Beau Biden was a Delaware National Guard Major and was exposed to burners while deployed to Iraq.
“I think having that kind of support from the White House will make an extraordinary difference,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y., said earlier this month.
Gillibrand and Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Have introduced one of the most comprehensive bills to address the problem. They would simplify the process for veterans to obtain benefits.
Currently, veterans must provide proof of their medical condition and proof of their location at specific burners or points where exposure took place. Then they have to undergo a medical examination and file a disability claim, which can take years. Under the proposed bill, veterans would only have to prove that they have been deployed to parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa since 1990 and that they suffer from a condition. associated with toxic exposure.
It remained uncertain on Tuesday whether the bill would have VA or White House support.
Asked about the Congressional effort at a press conference on Monday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough did not give a definitive answer as to whether he would support the bills. He said the department is holding quarterly meetings on the matter and is actively researching scientific data that could help them uncover disease trends linked to toxic exposures.
McDonough encouraged veterans to file claims with the VA, which could help the department uncover patterns.
“I urge veterans to come forward with their demands,” he said. “Our commitment is to treat every complaint with the care it deserves. As we receive more and more complaints, we can consolidate these claims to draw more important conclusions about what our veterans went through. “
Some veterans have filed claims, only to fight for their benefits through multiple rejections. National Guard veteran Cynthia Aman was diagnosed with a rare and progressive form of lung cancer after her deployment to the Middle East, where she was exposed to burners. The VA rejected Aman’s claims for benefits repeatedly for several years before winning her case.
“I have become my own researcher, lawyer and subject matter expert,” Aman said earlier this month. “It started a fire in me to help as many veterans as possible, as many are sick and dying and they no longer have the strength or voice to complete the mission.