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Hassan unveils bipartisan reform for vets exposed to toxins

Department of Veterans Affairs (Ed Schipul/Flickr)

A proposed reform would speed up health care and other benefits to veterans exposed to toxic substances overseas or in this country, said Paul Lloyd, past president of the New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Lloyd, who also serves as chairman of the New Hampshire Veterans Advisory Committee, during a virtual news conference Tuesday.

“In New Hampshire, we know folks have been affected (by toxins) on foreign grounds as well as back here in New Hampshire at Pease.”

A coalition of nearly 30 organizations on Tuesday endorsed bipartisan legislation cosponsored by Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., to create the Toxic Exposure in the American Military or TEAM Act.

“We must continue to advocate for toxic exposure beyond the airborne hazards, burn pits and ‘other toxic exposure,’ ” said Doris Brock, an advocate for families affected by exposure to PFAS at Pease, the former Air Force base on the New Hampshire Seacoast. “I and my fellow New Hampshire guardsmen and women would like to see medical and disability coverage for all toxic exposure in all of the 50 states.”

Hassan said a key provision of the bill would create an independent commission which, in conjunction with the National Academy of Sciences, would advise the federal Department of Veterans Affairs about toxic exposures affecting veterans.

“This will make a huge difference,” Hassan said.

Bill has bipartisan support

Tillis said the legislation is similar to a measure he sponsored in 2020. That measure failed before he could build bipartisan support in the U.S. House and Senate.

“I feel like we are making the right headway here,” Tillis said. “I think it bodes well for getting it over the goal line in this Congress.”

Other provisions of the bill would:

— Expand VA health care for veterans exposed to toxic substances to make clear that treatment for conditions related to toxic exposures would be covered free of charge. Veterans may have a copayment for treatment of unrelated conditions.

— Require the VA to respond to new scientific evidence regarding diseases associated with toxic exposure, and establish new presumptions that the exposure is connected to their service.

— Expand training on toxic exposure issues for VA health care personnel.

— Compel the VA to create a questionnaire for primary care appointments to determine whether a veteran may have been exposed to toxic substances during their service.

Aleks Morosky with the Wounded Warriors Project said the bill, if passed, would make sure veterans get timely help.

“The next generation of veterans will not be starting all over again in the future, and that’s important,” Morosky said.

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(c) 2021 The New Hampshire Union Leader

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