MISSOULA - While christening the new VA outpatient clinic in Missoula last week, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) said he’ll now turn his focus back to toxic exposure and a bill that would grant greater access to care to millions of exposed troops.
Tester, chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the Compensation and Overdue Support for Troops, or COST of War Act, last summer. While the bill enjoys bipartisan support, it hasn’t yet passed.
“The bill we’re working on – I was hoping it would have been passed by now – would give the VA the ability to make the diagnosis when somebody was impacted by toxic exposure,” Tester said. “That bill is going to cost some money. But in the end, it was an exposure they wouldn’t have been exposed to if they hadn’t gone.”
As written, the bill would expand access to more than 3 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and extend services to those still not recovered from toxic exposure in the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.
Over the nation’s time at war, mustard gas impacted troops during World War I and the second World War came with radiation. Agent Orange affected many Vietnam veterans and in the Persian Gulf War, it was toxic burn pits and burning oil fields.
Tester said the bill would set up a procedure for the VA to process claims of toxic exposure – something the VA has never had a process to address. In past years, veterans have struggled to prove exposure.
“We’re going to be making sure they get this clinic snapped up to the best of their ability and have the resources to do that,” Tester said. “After that, what’s next for me is a little thing called toxic exposure. Taking care of our veterans truly is a cost of war. It’s a cost of war that we need to make sure we’re paying.”