Videos & Speeches
Jul 31 2014
I also want to speak about legislation today that has been introduced by Senator Blumenthal and me. It is an issue that Senator Blumenthal brought to my attention and today we have introduced the Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2014.
We unfortunately live in a nation where men and women volunteer their services to sacrifice and support us to have the strongest, freest, greatest nation in the world. When service members raise their right hand and take the oath of enlistment or commissioning, they commit their lives to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and to protect the freedoms we hold dear.
Standing by their side through combat tours and multiple duty stations around the world is their family. We should and we must acknowledge that their family members are being called to sacrifice for our nation as well.
The Toxic Exposure Research Act is about addressing the wounds of war that might impact a service member's family--wounds that may not be evident for decades later when it is passed on to the next person of their family or the next generation. This legislation would provide for the research on health conditions of dependents of veterans who were exposed to toxins during their service to our nation such as Agent Orange in Vietnam, gulf war neurotoxins, burn pits in Iraq, or other chemicals from recent conflicts overseas.
I am not a veteran, but my life has been shaped by the fact that the Vietnam war took place during my high school years. Many of my conversations in high school were spent talking to those who were a few years older than I who were volunteering or being drafted, and for those who returned home to my hometown after their service in Vietnam.
During Vietnam, many of our veterans were exposed to Agent Orange and years later many veterans and their families are still struggling with the side effects of that exposure. Agent Orange specifically has been shown to cause birth defects in children of military members who came in contact with the toxin during the Vietnam war. There are other poisons from wars since Vietnam that have led to life-altering health problems and painful tragedies among veterans and their families.
A story of Herb Worthington and his daughter Karen is compelling. Mr. Worthington was drafted to serve in Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange. Years after his service came to an end he suffered from many conditions as a proven result of his exposure to Agent Orange. His daughter has battled MS for more than 19 years and has been treated for other conditions such as melanoma and an extremely painful nerve condition. Her life has been handicapped by health problems and various kinds of illnesses which must be studied in connection with the exposure of her father and what he experienced with Agent Orange.
Stories like Mr. Worthington's and his daughter Karen's have been shared all across the country in townhall meetings. I have heard them in stories at home in Kansas and they have been collected by the Vietnam Veterans of America. This is an issue that is important to all veterans. It is important to all Americans that we live up to our commitment to those who serve, and it is time we take necessary steps to help and protect their families now and for generations to come. Many people we will never know may be affected by the consequences of their mother, father, grandmother, or grandfather's service to their country. Clear evidence of unsettling conditions and those personal stories warrant the need to collect data to research and study the consequences of these toxins.
I invite my colleagues to learn more about these conditions and the impact they are having on family members of veterans by checking out a social media page, Faces of Agent Orange, through the Vietnam Veterans Association, VVA. The fact is many symptoms from toxic exposure are misdiagnosed in descendants of veterans because of lack of understanding and lack of scientific proof.
I would ask my colleagues to join us in giving the authority to the Secretary--the new Secretary we confirmed earlier this week--a tool he needs so he can designate a VA medical center as a national center for research on the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions of descendants of individuals or soldiers exposed to toxic substances during their service to our country, during their time as military members.
This legislation would establish an advisory board of experts to advise the national center and the VA Secretary with determining the health conditions studied and those that are a result of toxic exposure.
The Department of Defense has a role to play here in this research, sharing incidents of military members who were exposed to substances, to enhance the studies and outcomes conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ultimately our hope is this medical research would determine those conditions that are the result of debilitating toxins and lead to appropriate support and benefits, cures and treatments for family members.
Military families support our nation in their love and commitment to those who served in the Armed Forces, and they should not inherit the painful residual wounds of war that put their lives at risk long after the military operation is over. Toxic exposure research is a necessary step toward making certain our military men and women and their descendants will be properly cared for. It is also a step toward making certain that those toxins are not used in a way that causes this to be repeated again in any future war.
We must keep our promises to our veterans and to their families who have made the greatest sacrifice for the sake of our country, our security, our freedom, and our country's future.