Jun 02 2016
The last week in May marks a special event, a day when we as Americans gather to remember and celebrate the selfless acts of those who served in defense our country. Each year on Memorial Day, we demonstrate our respect and appreciation for the liberty and safety secured by the actions of our nation’s military men and women.
We remember those who lost their lives and we take the opportunity to keep the fallen and their families in our thoughts. We spend time with our loved ones, we give thanks to the veterans we know, and we reflect on what it means to be an American.
Yet memorializing our veterans, especially those who lost their lives in the line of duty, isn’t just about pausing to recognize their contributions as we did this week on Memorial Day. We have a year-round duty to provide the highest quality care and timely benefits to veterans. Americans have great respect for our servicemembers, current and former, but too many veterans across the country continue to struggle to receive the care they deserve from the VA.
One issue that continues to affect Kansas veterans is exposure to toxic substances while serving in the military. Exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, neurotoxins in the Gulf War, and chemical weapons and burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan can lead to lasting damage to both the veterans who served and to their family members. This type of exposure leaves painful, residual wounds of war long after the military operation is over.
I often hear from Kansans who are suffering from the impacts of toxic exposure and who feel the VA is failing them. The VA may not acknowledge their service-related conditions because they took years to develop, instead of their own set requirement that covered conditions must develop within six months. The VA refuses coverage for care that is required as a direct result of exposure to toxins, claiming the link between service and these problems is unproven and labeling them as “unexplained illnesses.” The kinds of conditions developed – ranging from skin, dental and vision problems to lifelong diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia and cancer – do damage to our veterans’ health, quality of life, and ability to hold down jobs and care for their families.
We have a long way to go to improve care for those suffering from toxic exposure. Most problematic is that the VA has conducted no research to address the health conditions that many see in their children and grandchildren as a result of the exposure to toxic substances.
In order to change the VA’s current standard for disability claims related to toxic exposure, we must force the VA to support more scientific research. To this end, I introduced the Toxic Exposure Research Act last year to address research on toxic exposure and the potential connection to heath conditions affecting descendants of veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military service. This legislation unanimously passed the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee and is now headed to the Senate floor coupled with other bills to reform the VA.
Absent this necessary research, our veterans and their families will continue to suffer without the help they deserve from the VA.
We can prevent the long-term wounds of war for future generations by understanding the health risks and symptoms of toxic exposure through scientific research conducted today. Those who serve our country with honor do not expect their choices to serve in the military to impact the future health of their children or grandchildren.
Providing quality health care and benefits for veterans who are still with us today is just as important as offering praise, admiration and gratitude for those who lost their lives in service to our nation.