Senator urges VA leadership to expand the list of presumptive conditions, lift blanket stay on processing claims, and work with DoD to address issues associated with burn pit exposure
(U.S. Senate) – At a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee oversight hearing today, Ranking Member Jon Tester urged the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to work with greater urgency to ensure current and future veterans exposed to harmful toxins in the line of duty are able to access benefits and care to which they are entitled.
Tester demanded that VA take immediate action by expanding the Department’s list of presumptive medical conditions to include Hypothyroidism, Bladder Cancer, Parkinsonism, and Hypertension – conditions that have been shown by the National Academy of Medicine to have some association with exposure to Agent Orange.
Addressing leadership and experts on the panel, he said: “You talk about the studies you’re doing— but ultimately decisions have to be made. The truth is, we got folks out there who are dying. These folks were put in positions they had no control over. We have an obligation to deal with these folks in a timely manner.”
Earlier this year, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie issued a stay on Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans’ claims, needlessly stalling benefits for thousands of veterans until January 2020. Tester urged VA to immediately lift the blanket stay on processing claims for eligible veterans saying, “Vietnam veterans continue to wait for the VA bureaucracy to unravel itself from red tape and issue a decision on whether to extend presumptive exposure… VA must do right by these Blue Water Navy veterans to lift the stay, begin processing their claims today, and end the wait.”
Tester later called for a “simpler, quicker process” in conducting a comprehensive review of the health effects of airborne hazards from burn pits. During the hearing he urged, “Veterans and their families can’t wait decades for determinations that their military exposures caused their illnesses. Making a decision on the science shouldn’t take more than three years. Following a court decision shouldn’t take nine months. And not learning from decades of mistakes and allowing our newest generation of veterans to experience the same hold-ups as Vietnam veterans is a failure in and of itself.”
Tester has continued to be an outspoken champion for veterans in the Senate. During a press conference yesterday, Tester publically called on the Trump Administration to provide long-overdue health care and benefits to Vietnam-era veterans living with exposure to Agent Orange. He also pushed VA to expand the list of presumptive health outcomes for veterans suffering from chronic conditions related to herbicide exposure.
He successfully fought to include his Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health (OATH) Act into the annual must-pass defense bill, bipartisan legislation requiring DOD to track servicemembers exposures to toxic chemicals in their individual medical records. And, his bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 extending VA benefits to veterans who served off the shores of Vietnam, was signed into law on June, 26, 2019.
Tester’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is available to read HERE.
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