In a major victory for the Association of the United States Navy and many other Military/Veteran Service Organizations (MSOs/VSOs), Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.) has introduced S. 4393, the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act of 2020.
The bill has been spearheaded by the TEAM Coalition, of which AUSN is a member. The bill “fundamentally reforms and improves how Veterans exposed to toxic substances receive health care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Tillis said in a statement.
AUSN and other organizations fighting on behalf of Veterans have secured important victories in recent years for those who have suffered from illnesses tied to their service, but have not received benefits to help them fight their afflictions. Last year, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act was signed into law, securing benefits for those who were exposed to Agent Orange while serving on ship and suffered as a result.
However, there are other toxic exposure issues and Veterans continue to fight an uphill battle to get the benefits they are owed each and every time these issues come up, from burn pits in Iraq to Agent Orange in Vietnam. The TEAM bill seeks to rectify that by taking a proactive approach. Here are a few of the things this bill does, as laid out by Tillis’ office:
- Provides consultation and testing through VA for eligible veterans exposed to toxic substances.
- Requires VA to respond to new scientific evidence regarding diseases associated with toxic exposure within an established timeframe.
- Establishes a scientific commission to research the health effects of toxic exposure in veterans and report the commission’s findings to VA and Congress.
- Ensures VA enters into agreements with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct scientific studies regarding associations between diseases and exposure to toxic substances during military service.
- Develops an online portal for veterans to access the Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record.
- Expands training on toxic exposure issues for VA health care and benefits personnel.
- Requires VA to develop a questionnaire for primary care appointments to help determine whether a veteran may have been exposed to toxic substances during service.
AUSN, along with the TEAM Coalition, will not rest until we have dealt with every issue of toxic exposure affecting our service members. The road to solving this difficult issue is long, but this is a vital first step toward our goal.