WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) that would offer combat veterans, including those suffering from conditions caused by toxic exposures, such as burn pits, access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care. The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act includes multiple provisions from Senator Tillis’ TEAM Act thatpassed SVAC unanimously.
Measures authored by Senator Tillis would:
- Require the VA to screen veterans for potential toxic exposure;
- Require the VA to compile and analyze data to identify a potential link between a veteran’s medical conditions and toxic exposure; and
- Direct the VA to develop an outreach program to veterans and their families regarding benefits and support programs related to toxic exposure.
“As a Senator from North Carolina, I know firsthand the obstacles thousands of veterans who have been exposed to toxicants while serving have had to overcome, including many stationed at Camp Lejeune who spent decades fighting for proof of water contamination and fair treatment for the damages caused by the military,” said Senator Tillis. “One of my main priorities has been finding a solution so veterans are given a fair and uniform process to receive the health care and benefits to which they are entitled following exposure to toxicants during their service. That is why I introduced the TEAM Act that had widespread support, and I am proud this legislation includes multiple provisions I authored. I want to thank my colleagues in the Senate for their unanimous support so we can finally provide our veterans the treatment they deserve.”
Approximately 3.5 million Post-9/11 combat veterans may have experienced some level of exposure to burn pits during their service—many of whom are living with undiagnosed illnesses linked to military toxic exposures—and nearly one-third of those veterans are currently unable to access VA care.
Among its many provisions, the senators’ bipartisan Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act would:
- Expand the period of health care eligibility for combat veterans who served after September 11, 2001, from five years following discharge to ten years;
- Provide a one-year open enrollment period for any Post-9/11 combat veterans who are outside their 10-year window;
- Establish an outreach plan to contact veterans who did not enroll during their initial period of enhanced eligibility; and
- Mandate toxic exposure-related education and training for healthcare and benefits personnel at VA.
The Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act also has strong backing from the nation’s leading veterans service organizations, including Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Wounded Warrior Project, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The American Legion and Military Officers Association of America.