KTVH: Tester, veterans advocate for military toxic exposure bill in Helena

by Sam Hoyle

Military members are subjected to visible dangers on a regular basis, but in May of this year, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester, D-Mont., unveiled a bill that would tackle the invisible dangers that service members have been subjected to.

“Some of these manifest years later as mine have years later, after your military service, the agent orange in my case,” said Vietnam veteran Dave Powell. “All the folks that served in the Middle East and Afghanistan, hopefully they’ll benefit from this new bill because it has been a challenge to navigate through the process.”

Powell, who was stationed in Thailand with the Air Force during the Vietnam war, suffers from ailments as a result of his exposure to toxic chemicals during his time in the service.

The bill Tester brought forth in May is called the Comprehensive and Overdue Support of Troops (COST) of War act.

While the topic of service member’s exposure to toxic chemicals has been a topic of conversation for decades, more recently the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently recognized that millions of veterans that served in post-9/11 conflicts are also seeing the effects of exposure to toxic chemicals through the military’s use of burn pits. The United States military used burn pits to discard trash and other debris, including various cancer-causing items.

If the bill is signed into law it would:

Provide immediate and lifelong VA healthcare to 3.5 millions veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Reduce the burden of proof for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals to access VA healthcare.
Focus federal research to support toxic exposure veterans and ensure that the toxic exposure framework is based on sound science.
At an event with Senator Tester in Helena on Tuesday, Montana Veterans of Foreign Wars Adjutant Tim Peters noted the bill is important because it helps cover the unavoidable risks of war.

“If you get shot and you’re bleeding, that’s a very easy thing to recognize and understand that we need to take care of that. But when you have something that you can’t see, you can’t identify what it is, or what caused it, it makes it more difficult,” said Peters. “Exposure to a toxin could take decades, to show up in a person – in a veteran. So that’s why it’s important to get it in there.”

Ahead of Veterans Day, Tester highlighted the bill during a press conference and noted it’s about making sure that Veterans who found themselves in harm’s way are taken care of.

“This day is more about just paying our respects, it’s about doing right by the service, and paying the continuing cost of war,” said Tester.

When asked following the press conference, Tester said the bill would cost taxpayers approximately $430 billion dollars across 10 years and that there has been some resistance when it comes to the price tag associated with it. However, Tester believes that many taxpayers would be willing to take that on.