Approves Historic Toxic Exposure Legislation
WASHINGTON– The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced legislation introduced by U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) that would eliminate barriers to benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War-era as part of a comprehensive package to improve Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service in uniform.
“This is an important step in supporting the promises we made to our veterans and ensuring they get the care and benefits they have earned,” Boozman said. “The VA wrongly imposes arbitrary limitations on the presumption of toxic exposure to Agent Orange for veterans who served in Thailand. I’m pleased my colleagues on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee agree that this must be corrected.”
The VA currently awards service-connected benefits for exposure to toxic chemicals to veterans whose duties placed them on or near the perimeters of Thai military bases from February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975. This restriction arbitrarily disqualifies veterans who may otherwise be able to prove their exposure, regardless of their assigned duties during their time stationed in Thailand.
Boozman’s bill was included as a provision in the Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021, legislation that expands access to VA health care and benefits to veterans living with the effects of toxic exposure. The comprehensive package also includes language from the Boozman-backed Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act that would acknowledge the exposure of veterans who served near burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and other locations. This is critical to helping eliminate the burden on veterans to prove exposure to toxins.
“Millions of veterans are experiencing health complications as a result of exposure to toxins during deployments overseas. These men and women deserve the health care and benefits they were promised for their service. It’s overdue for the VA to provide this support. Committee passage of the COST of War Act is welcomed progress, now we need input from the VA in order for this legislation to be successful and meet the needs of veterans. The VA must be active in conversations regarding implementation. We need to work together to ensure we can support the services this bill requires and maintain the VA’s ability to provide the quality care we expect,” Boozman said.
Additionally, the committee approved the Ensuring Survivor Benefits During COVID Act. The bipartisan bill cosponsored by Boozman would provide proper benefits to family members of veterans who die from the coronavirus. Currently, a veteran who passes away from COVID-19 may have his or her death listed as “COVID-19” without accounting for service-connected disabilities that were contributing factors.