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Veterans health bill advances; Boozman-backed measure addresses toxic exposure

by Ryan Tarinelli | June 17, 2022 at 7:06 a.m.
FILE - In this April 28, 2011, photo, an Afghan National Army pickup truck passes parked U.S. armored military vehicles, as smoke rises from a fire in a trash burn pit at Forward Operating Base Caferetta Nawzad, Helmand province south of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Simon Klingert, File)

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate approved a bill Thursday expanding health care access to veterans exposed to toxins during their service, a piece of legislation that included provisions written by Arkansas Republican John Boozman.

The bipartisan legislation cleared the chamber in a 84-14 tally with Boozman of Rogers and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Little Rock both voting in support of the measure.

"This is probably the most sweeping veterans bill of the last several decades. It's a major accomplishment," Boozman said Thursday. "So when you have something of that magnitude, it just takes a lot of hard work."

Supporters of the legislation say it would bolster federal research regarding toxic exposure and expand U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care eligibility for combat veterans who served after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The legislation would add 23 conditions related to burn pits and toxic exposure to the department's catalog of service presumptions, in which the department presumes that conditions were the result of a person's military service.

There is also a provision offered by Boozman that would expand health care and disability compensation benefits to veterans of the Vietnam War era who served in Thailand, according to the senator's office.

The legislation passed by the Senate now must clear the House.

The senior senator from Arkansas said he was involved in working on the legislation with Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana and Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas.

Boozman, during a Senate floor speech on Wednesday, said there's a need for improvements to benefits for post-9/11 veterans who were exposed to toxic substances from burn pits.

Such exposures are known to cause serious illness, including respiratory ailments and rare cancers, he said.

"Those suffering deserve to know they have not been forgotten, and their voices have been heard," he said. "The promise our nation made to the men and women who served in these dangerous conditions must be kept. This bill fulfills that promise."

Boozman also mentioned veteran Bill Rhodes of Mena, who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War era. The senator described Rhodes as a "relentless advocate of toxic exposure benefits."

On Thursday, Rhodes said he feels like the legislation will eventually be signed into law, but he's waiting for that to officially happen.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement Thursday saying the chamber will "move swiftly to take up this legislation and send it to President Biden's desk for his signature."

Pelosi, in the statement, called the Senate passage a "historic victory for America's veterans, their families and caregivers, and for our nation."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who voted for the measure, said there are estimated to be 3.5 million service members who had been exposed to dangerous chemicals during their time in the line of duty over the last 20 years.

Cotton, a military veteran, indicated his support for the legislation on Wednesday.

"For those Arkansans who were exposed to burn pits, who have illnesses or other conditions relating to those exposures, it'll make sure that they're getting in the line at the VA, that they're getting the benefits and the health care they need," he said.

Passage of the measure in the Senate comes more than a week after Biden signed into law a bill expanding mammogram eligibility for veterans. The move gave final approval to legislation sponsored by Boozman.

Under that legislation, veterans who served in locations with burn pits will be cleared for mammograms through health-care providers of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, regardless of age or family history.

A separate bill backed by Boozman and approved by Biden on the same day also orders the department to update in-house breast imaging to three-dimensional breast imaging.


Print Headline: Veterans health bill advances

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