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Senate bill would reform VA approach to toxic substance exposure treatment

Senate bill would reform VA approach to toxic substance exposure treatment
On Tuesday a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate for additional care for veterans exposed to toxic substances. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

March 24 (UPI) -- A bill to improve healthcare and benefits of military personnel exposed to toxic substances was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate this week.

The Toxic Exposure in the American Military, or TEAM, Act would create sweeping mandates for the Department of Veterans Affairs to track and care for eligible veterans, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., announced on Tuesday.

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Co-sponsored by Tillis and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., the bill was passed in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in 2020 but did not receive a Senate floor voter.

"Our brave veterans risked their lives to protect our country and it's our job to make sure they are supported back home, even years after they served," Tillis said in a press release.

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"The TEAM Act ensures that all veterans are given a fair and uniform process to receive the health care and benefits to which they are entitled following exposures to toxicants during their service," Tillis said.

The proposed bill expands health care for veterans exposed to toxic substances, and requires the VA to respond to new scientific evidence regarding diseases associated with toxic exposure.

The bill would also ensures that VA review scientific studies regarding toxic substances encountered during military service, establishes an independent scientific commission to assist the VA in determining the health effects of toxic exposure and expands training of VA health care personnel.

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The issue has gained attention as personnel serving in Afghanistan and Iraq returned home with cancers and respiratory and fertility issues.

The issue has also been noted because of lagging Pentagon action to remediate contamination by PFAS -- per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances -- at hundreds of military bases and other defense operations in the United States.

PFAS are regarded as "forever chemicals" because they do not break down in the environment.

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Hassan's state, New Hampshire, is the site of the former Pease Air Force Base.

The base, which was closed in 1991, has since 1983 has been investigated and partially remediated after troops and their families were exposed to high levels of chemicals, including PFAS.

"We have an obligation to ensure that veterans who return home from war receive the care that they need and have earned," Hassan said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Our bipartisan bill would take long overdue steps to ensure that veterans can receive health care for diseases that they develop as a result of toxic substance exposure during their service," Hassan said.

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