WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced legislation to ensure that servicemembers and veterans exposed to Occupational Environmental Health (OEH) hazards in the line of duty get the necessary medical care and benefits they need. The bipartisan Occupational and Environmental Transparency Health (OATH) Act would require the Department of Defense to track active duty military personnel and veterans’ exposed to harmful chemicals in a system.
Currently, individuals who have been exposed to toxic chemicals such as mold, caustic fumes, open air burn pits, and airborne chemicals during military operations are not being properly documented and tracked by the Defense Department or VA. Out of a total of more than three million post-9/11 veterans, only 175,000 veterans and service members are registered under the VA’s Airborne and Open Burn Pit Registry.
“During the Vietnam War, the U.S. sprayed 80 million liters of Agent Orange, but it took the government years to recognize its devastating health effects on our servicemembers and to begin providing the treatment they needed—we have to learn from those mistakes,” Klobuchar said. “The OATH Act will ensure that active duty military personnel and veterans can accurately document toxins they were exposed to while serving our country at home or abroad so they can get the proper help they need.”
“Far more of our post-9/11 veterans have been exposed to toxic chemicals than we’ve accounted for,” Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said. “The first step in providing them the health care they need and have earned is ensuring we’re tracking and monitoring servicemembers affected by toxic exposure. Our bipartisan bill requires the proper documentation of these illnesses so that we may better serve those who have served us.”
“The passage of the OATH Act will mark a positive change in the lives of all our military men and women who are exposed to environmental hazards while in the line of duty,” Blackburn said. “Currently, service members’ records are missing important health and exposure information that should be tracked. This legislation will ensure that a service member’s health file notes all instances of dangerous exposure, and make that record available to service members and their doctors.”
Specifically, the OATH Act:
- Requires the Department of Defense to record any OEH exposure into the servicemember’s records while deployed, following the servicemember throughout his or her career and into veteran status; and
- Mandates that the Department of Defense and VA retroactively update their health records based on information contained in the Burn Pit Registry.
The bill is endorsed by Reserve Officers Association, Association of the United States Navy, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and Air Force Sergeants Association.
“Veterans who have been exposed to environmental and occupational hazards like burn pits need accurately documented service and medical records in order to get their full earned health care and benefits,” said Joy Ilem, Legislative Director at Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National. “The OATH Act would require the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to include all available information on such exposures as part of their electronic health records, impacting not only their medical treatment but also potential VA disability claims in the future. DAV greatly appreciates Senator Tester introducing the OATH Act and looks forward to working with him to enact this and other legislation to bring justice to those exposed to airborne toxins from burn pits and other hazards.”
Since coming to the Senate, Klobuchar has worked to ensure that veterans and service members who have defended our freedom and security have the resources they need and deserve. Earlier this month, Klobuchar-backed legislation to prevent changes in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act from unduly harming Gold Star military families passed the Senate. The Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act will correct a mistake in President Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and eliminate the unfair tax hike on survivors benefits for Gold Star military families.
In 2018, provisions based on Klobuchar and Senator Thom Tillis’ (R-NC) Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act were signed into law as part of the Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. The bipartisan legislation will create a Center of Excellence in the VA focused on researching the health effects associated with burn pits and treating veterans who become sick after exposure. In March, they reintroduced the Newborn Care Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation that would double the number of days veterans receive care for their newborns from 7 to 14. Klobuchar also worked to pass the landmark Post-9/11 GI Bill, which provided enhanced tuition and housing benefits to service members seeking to continue their education and smoothly transition into the civilian workforce. She also supported the pivotal Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, which not only improved support and training for family caregivers – who often carry the largest burden of nursing our wounded warriors back to health – but also strengthened health programs for women and rural veterans.