WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) reintroduced the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act, bipartisan legislation that would fundamentally reform and improve how veterans exposed to toxic substances receive health care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“When we ask our young men and women to defend and fight for our nation, we make a promise to take care of them when they return home,” said Senator Klobuchar. “This bipartisan legislation will bring much needed reform to how veterans exposed to toxic substances receive health care and benefits. As we continue to learn about the effects of toxic exposure, I’ll keep working to ensure we provide our veterans with the support they have earned.”
“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,” said Senator Tillis. “As a Senator from North Carolina, I know firsthand the obstacles thousands of veterans who have been exposed to toxicants while serving have had to overcome, including many stationed at Camp Lejeune who spent decades pushing for documentation of their exposure and fair treatment for the damages caused by the military. This cannot continue to be the norm. After working alongside veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune and fighting for servicemembers exposed to toxicants from burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s clear the men and women who served our country deserve better. 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 exposure to toxicants during their service.”
“We have an obligation to ensure that veterans who return home from war receive the care that they need and have earned,” said Senator Hassan. “Unfortunately, for millions of veterans across the country who may have been exposed to toxic substances during their service, that obligation is not being met. 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.”
“Veterans took a sacred oath to serve this country and our obligation to them following their service must match that level of commitment,” said Senator Moran. “Veterans who are experiencing negative health effects of toxic exposures need to be able to rely on VA for answers and a Congress that is attentive to their needs. That is why I am co-sponsoring the TEAM Act, landmark legislation that will reform the way veterans exposed to toxic substances access health care and establishes an independent scientific commission tasked with researching the health effects of such toxic exposure. I am committed to working with my colleagues to make certain veterans who experience negative health consequences following exposure to dangerous chemicals where they were living and working while serving have access to an enduring framework, supported by science, to identify, research and address cases of toxic exposure in a timely manner.”
“Our veterans spent years putting their lives on the line in some of the world’s most dangerous places,” said Senator Blackburn. “They should not have to wage war against the federal bureaucracy to receive proper medical care. This legislation will open up access to critical treatment for veterans exposed to toxic substances.”
"After nearly two years of tireless work by our Coalition, we are pleased to see The TEAM Act re-introduced in the 117th Congress. We would like to thank Senator Tillis and Senator Hassan for their leadership on this critical issue, and urge the Senate to pass this legislation without delay.” – The Toxic Exposures in The American Military (TEAM) Coalition
Specifically, the TEAM Act:
- Expands VA health care for veterans exposed to toxic substances. Treatment for conditions related to toxic exposures will be covered free of charge. Enrolled veterans will be eligible for treatment for unrelated conditions, but those services may be subject to a co-pay.
- Requires VA to respond to new scientific evidence regarding diseases associated with toxic exposure and establish new presumptions of service connection when supported by the science.
- Ensures VA enters into agreements with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to review scientific studies regarding associations between diseases and exposure to toxic substances during military service.
- Establishes an independent scientific commission to assist the VA in determining the health effects of toxic exposure in veterans and report the commission’s findings to VA and Congress.
- Expands training on toxic exposure issues for VA health care personnel.
- Requires VA to develop a questionnaire for primary care appointments to determine whether a veteran may have been exposed to toxic substances during service.
In January 2021, a provision based on the bipartisan Pandemic Care for Burn Pits Exposure Act led by Klobuchar and Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The provision improves the care that servicemembers and veterans who were previously exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances receive during the coronavirus pandemic. By requiring medical professionals to ask whether servicemembers and veterans who test positive for a virus designated by the federal government as a pandemic if they were previously exposed to burn pits, this provision will help ensure that they receive proper care and attention to their medical needs.
In December 2019, Klobuchar’s bipartisan Burn Pits Accountability Act with Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Burn Pits Accountability Act requires members of the Armed Forces to be evaluated for exposure to toxic airborne chemicals during routine health exams and directs the Secretary of Defense to record and share whether servicemembers were based or stationed near an open burn pit, including any information recorded as part of the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, the Periodic Health Assessment (PHAs), Separation History and Physical Examination (SHPEs), and Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHAs). Members will also be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless they choose to opt out, if they were exposed to toxic airborne chemicals or stationed near an open burn pit.
In September 2018, provisions based on the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act led by Klobuchar and Senator Tillis were signed into law as part of the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, and created the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence within the VA focused on researching the health effects associated with burn pits and treating veterans who become sick after exposure.