Jun 19 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) led a bipartisan roundtable discussion hosted by Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jerry Moran (R-KS) on “Toxic Exposures During Military Service: The Way Forward” with leaders from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and numerous veterans service organizations.

In addition to a broader discussion on toxic exposure related to military service, the roundtable delved into a legislative proposal, initially developed by The TEAM Coalition, and championed by Senator Tillis, that will fundamentally reform and improve the way that veterans exposed to toxic substances receive health care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The draft bill would expand access to preventative and diagnostic services for veterans exposed to toxins and establish an independent scientific commission tasked with researching the health effects of such toxic exposure, ultimately submitting its findings and recommendations to the VA and Congress on a periodic basis.

Earlier this week, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) participated in a Washington Post Live discussion on the health care challenges veterans face after their service. Senator Tillis spoke on his bipartisan legislative efforts to help veterans exposed to toxic chemicals and burn pits.

“Veterans exposed to toxins is a very personal issue for me since my wife’s uncle died of exposure to Agent Orange, and I have been working since the day I was sworn in to ensure we don’t repeat the decades-long mistakes that resulted in lost time and a lack of care for Vietnam War veterans and servicemembers and military families at Camp Lejeune,” said Senator Tillis. “We face another crisis with toxic exposure from burn pits in Afghanistan and the Middle East that we need to get ahead of before it’s too late, and I am proud we could get everyone at the table to discuss the way forward. I want to thank Chairman Moran, representatives from the Administration, and the VSOs for being a part of this discussion and I look forward to continuing to work together on behalf of the men and women in uniform who were exposed to toxins.”

“Ensuring veterans have timely access to benefits and quality health care has always been a top priority of mine,” said Chairman Moran. “However, veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances during the course of military service have faced barriers to get the VA care and service they deserve – the burden of proof is significant, and we must find a way to bridge the gap.”

Since taking office, Senator Tillis has been an advocate for providing justice for the victims of Camp Lejeune toxic contamination, working to advance bipartisan legislation. In 2019, he co-introduced The Janey Ensminger Act to ensure individuals with diseases scientifically linked to toxic chemical exposure at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina receive proper medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Senator Tillis also co-led efforts to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2018, Senators Tillis and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced and successfully passed legislation that created a Center of Excellence in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) focused on researching the health effects associated with burn pits and treating veterans who become sick after exposure. 

Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-MT) and U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Rounds (R-ND), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CN) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), all members of SVAC, also participated in the roundtable.