Hazardous toxins every veteran has experienced. How can we help care for them now?

Senate bill to expand healthcare benefits to over 1.3 million post-9/11 Veterans: Where to go and how to get care

February 21, 2022

A new Senate bill titled, “Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act,” was proposed two weeks ago by Veterans Affairs Committee leadership. Senators Jon Tester (MT) and Jerry Moran (KS) hope to expand eligibility for healthcare services from the Department of Veterans Affairs for veterans exposed to burn pits, and toxic substances during their military service in Iraq, Afghanistan, and various nations scattered through the middle east.

Historically, a post-9/11 veteran would be eligible for VA care for five years following service. However, we’ve seen increasing rates of cancers and odd illnesses being misdiagnosed or diagnosed in a later stage, often surpassing the five-year timeframe. The proposal would grant ten-years of care through enrollment beginning the last day you served. More importantly, enrollment in the VA healthcare system opens doors to specialized evaluations through Environmental Healthcare Coordinators, Preventive Services, Cancer Screenings, and Health Promotion – all specific and tailored to military veterans.

Currently, 62% of VA providers ranked “no to low knowledge on toxic exposures”, while only 38% discussed the topic of exposures with their veteran patients. At face value it sounds terrible, but this study was completed by the Department of Veterans Affairs War-related Injury and Illness Center in November 2021 – that being said, the VA is looking to expand (and mandate), evidence-based educational training for healthcare professionals caring for post-9/11 veterans. For those who are still appalled with these numbers, let us highlight that approximately 4% of civilian healthcare providers are competent to provide veteran-centered, specific care, another study conducted by good friend, Navy veteran, and former Assistant Secretary at the VA, Dr. Tammy Bonzanto.

HunterSeven Foundation has advocated and encouraged evidence-based education and instruction since Day one! The Kofi Annan quote is in our tagline – “Knowledge is power, Information is liberating, and education is the premise of progress in every society”. This potential piece of legislation mandates education for all Veterans Affairs healthcare providers on how to identify, assess, and treat toxic exposure-related illnesses, burn pit exposures, and to mandate those who review claims for service-connected disability benefits – this is HUGE partly because the VA (to help offset the claims backlog), contracted QTC Medical Services to conduct 100% of C&P examinations and evaluations. Their experience with veterans and toxic exposures falls somewhere around that 4% mentioned above.

The proposed bill would cost approximately one billion dollars but would extend healthcare to an additional 1.3 million post-9/11 veterans, more importantly though, would most definitely identify potentially terminal illnesses and cancers and extend lives in turn. The next step is to pass the House of Representatives (feel free to reach out to your congressional members) and if passed, the bill lands on the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Despite the bill title self-confining to “burn pit veterans”, the Senate understands that burn pits are just one exposure amongst many. So do not let the title confuse you, this covers all toxic exposures from radiation to heavy metals, small airborne particulate matter, and jet fuel exhaust.

In the meantime, learn more about your toxic exposures on our education page, including your deployment locations’ periodic occupational environmental monitoring summaries (POEMS), your local Environmental Healthcare Coordinator, and some brief, downloadable one-page summaries!

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