Commentary: Keep our promise to service members, veterans
This commentary was sent to the newspaper for the Opinion page. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
By U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota
From the muddy fields of Vietnam to the sands of Afghanistan and Iraq, our service members and veterans have always answered the call, fighting valiantly for our country at great personal risk. Over time, we have seen the severe and lasting consequences of their sacrifices — and in particular, their exposure to toxic substances.
Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange experience high levels of hypertension, and those who were exposed to toxic burn pits in the Middle East have gone on to suffer illnesses from asthma and rhinitis to severe cancers. For too long, it’s been nearly impossible to get care for those conditions through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
It’s always been my belief that when our service members and veterans signed up to serve, there was no waiting line, so when they come home, there shouldn’t be a waiting line to access the benefits they deserve. That is why I spent many years working alongside Minnesota veterans and veteran families to make sure veterans suffering from exposure-related illnesses could get care through the VA. We made a huge stride forward with last year’s enactment of the PACT Act, a landmark bill that expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange, burn pits and other toxic substances. The legislation included provisions from my bipartisan bill to improve education and training for VA health care personnel.
The PACT Act increases VA health care and benefit eligibility for 3.5 million veterans spanning the Vietnam, Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars, including an estimated 294,000 Minnesota veterans. Passing that bill was a hard-won accomplishment, and now I am focused on making sure that Minnesota veterans know how to access the benefits they are finally eligible for.
For Gulf War and post 9/11 veterans, the VA will now presume the diseases and cancers below were service-connected:
Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
Head cancer of any type
Lymphoma of any type
Neck cancer of any type
Reproductive cancer of any type
Respiratory (breathing-related) cancer of any type
Asthma that was diagnosed after service
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
For Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, the VA will now presume these diseases were service-connected: high blood pressure; and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS).
If you think you or a surviving family member of a Veteran may be eligible for health care and benefits, I strongly encourage you to file a claim at VA.gov/PACT or call 1-800-MYVA411. My team also stands ready to assist you. For help, please reach out to my office at 612-727-5220.
When we ask our young men and women to fight for our nation, we make a promise to take care of them when they return home. With the PACT Act, we are showing our veterans and service members that a promise made is a promise kept.