WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) issued the statement below following the Biden administration’s announcement that it will expand disability and health benefits to veterans suffering from nine rare respiratory cancers due to potential exposure to toxic substances:

“When we ask people to defend our nation, we make a promise to be there for them when they return home. That is why I have fought for years to ensure our veterans and servicemembers who were exposed to toxic substances, including burn pits, receive the care and benefits they need. Today the Biden administration announced that it will expand eligibility for disability and health benefits. This important action builds on my bipartisan bill with Senator Thom Tillis to improve treatment for individuals exposed to burn pits, which became law in September 2018 as the first major federal action on this issue. I am glad to see this progress in getting our veterans and servicemembers the care they’ve earned, and I will continue to work to move additional efforts forward.”

Klobuchar has been a leader in advocating for veterans and servicemembers exposed to toxic substances.

In February, Klobuchar’s legislation with Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) to provide health care personnel with improved education and training to identify, treat, and assess the impact of illnesses related to exposure to burn pits and other toxic substances passed the Senate as part of the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act. This legislation also requires the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Compensation Service to establish and mandate an ongoing national training program to help prevent veterans from wrongly being denied disability claims related to burn pits.

In October 2021, Klobuchar and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) sent a bipartisan letter to the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs expressing concern about how toxic burn pit exposure affects women’s health, including the potential increased risk of breast cancer. The letter encouraged the departments to work together to conduct research into the relationship between toxic exposure during deployment and breast cancer in post-9/11 servicemembers and veterans as well as make sure veterans are aware of the resources that are available to them so they can get the care they need.

In March of 2021, alongside Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Klobuchar reintroduced the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act, bipartisan legislation that would reform and improve how veterans exposed to toxic substances receive health care and benefits from the VA.

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 veterans who were previously exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances receive during the coronavirus pandemic. It will require medical professionals to ask whether veterans who test positive for a virus designated by the federal government as a pandemic if they were previously exposed to burn pits, which 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, and they must include 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 if they were exposed to toxic airborne chemicals, unless they choose to opt out. 

In September 2018, provisions based on the Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act led by Klobuchar and Tillis were signed into law as part of the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. These provisions – the first legislative actions taken to address this issue – created the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence within the VA, which is focused on researching the health effects associated with burn pits and treating veterans who become sick after exposure.

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