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Tester, Blackburn, Klobuchar Toxic Exposure Bill Heads to President’s Desk

Senate passes bipartisan Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health Act as part of annual defense legislation

(U.S. Senate) – Bipartisan legislation from U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to deliver relief to veterans exposed to toxic substances passed the Senate 86-8 as a part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health (OATH) Act now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. 

The Senators introduced their legislation earlier this year, 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.

“This victory is for thousands of post-9/11 veterans who have been waiting for years for their government to do right by them,” said Senator Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Passage of the OATH Act ensures that our men and women in uniform are never faced with uncertainty when it comes to documenting their toxic exposures and receiving proper treatment. I urge the President to sign this bill quickly into law, following through on our commitment to those who have served and sacrificed at a great cost.” 

“The passage of the OATH Act marks 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, servicemembers’ records are missing important health and exposure information that should be tracked. This legislation ensures that a servicemember’s health file notes all instances of dangerous exposure, and makes that record available to servicemembers and their doctors.”

“The health and safety of our brave servicemembers is one of my top priorities—that’s why we must learn from the lessons of the devastating use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War and protect our military from dangerous chemicals,” said Senator Klobuchar. “The OATH Act will ensure that the Defense Department is tracking and documenting the exposure of active duty military personnel and veterans to toxins while serving our country at home or abroad, so they can get the proper help they need.”

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 DoD of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Out of a total of more than three million post-9/11 veterans, only 175,000 veterans and service members are registered under VA’s Airborne and Open Burn Pit Registry. 

The OATH Act includes the following provisions:

·         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 (DAV), Reserve Officers Association, Association of the United States Navy, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and Air Force Sergeants Association. 

“It is critical that veterans who have been exposed to environmental and occupational hazards like burn pits have accurately documented service and medical records in order to get their full earned health care and benefits,” said 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 in a servicemember’s electronic health record, impacting not only their medical treatment but also potential VA disability claims in the future. Signing the OATH Act in law is an important step in bringing justice to those men and women exposed to airborne toxins from burn pits and other hazards.”

“I am thrilled at the passage of the OATH Act,” said IAVA CEO Jeremy Butler. “IAVA strongly supported this bill, which will require DoD and VA to retroactively update medical records with toxic exposures. This is an important complement to the IAVA-led Burn Pits Accountability Act.”  

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