Senators hopeful for the future of bill to aid post-9/11 veterans

A bipartisan effort to assist post 9/11 veterans who were exposed to toxic substances could be inching closer to the Senate floor.
Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 12:45 PM AKST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A nearly $1 billion bipartisan measure to help veterans suffering from health problems post 9/11 is expected to take a step forward tomorrow, lawmakers believe.

Chairman Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Ks.) Kansas and Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mt.) announced they are sending legislation to the United States Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on Wednesday for the Health Care For Burn Pit Veterans Act. They expect the measure will quickly pass, and then make its way onto the Senate floor for debate.

The Health Care For Burn Pit Veterans Act would offer access to Department of Veterans Affairs health care for every combat veteran who served after Nov. 1998 with a discharge date after Sept. 11, 2001. Currently, the senators say at least 1 million of the 3.5 million post-9/11 combat veterans exposed to toxic substances are unable to access VA care.

“One thing is abundantly clear, without action, post-9/11 veterans will suffer as Vietnam veterans have,” said Tester.

Open-air burn pits were once common during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The senators claim those burn pits handled dangerous materials and sent toxic fumes into the air. The senators claim many veterans who were exposed only recently discovered they are suffering from health issues.

“The challenge we have here is the backlog for benefits is so lengthy,” said Moran, who recognized the VA also needs support to get veterans more assistance.

As for how long veterans may have to wait for help to arrive, Tester said, “I think if we can get this bill passed, it’s going to cut that wait way down, and so that’s the goal.”

The senators said this is only step one of their three phased approach to the issue. Next, they plan to focus on presumptive conditions for veterans and delivering overdue benefits.

Read below the changes the senators say are in the bill:

  • Increases the period of eligibility for VA health care for post-9/11 combat veterans from five to 10 years following discharge and creates a one-year open enrollment period for post-9/11 combat veterans who did not enroll during their initial five years following discharge
  • Provides every veteran a toxic exposure screening during VA medical visits
  • Increases toxic exposure-related education and training for VA health care and benefits personnel
  • Establishes VA reporting requirements on VA medical data to treat toxic exposure
  • Mandates VA outreach program for toxic exposure veterans on VA care, benefits, and resources
  • Requires VA to perform mortality study on veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War
  • Directs a study on post-9/11 veterans health trends
  • Requires a study on veterans’ cancer rates

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