(Updated May 26)
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced an omnibus bill to provide comprehensive toxic exposure reform, a move he promised in a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing earlier this month.
The Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021 was marked up at a May 26 Senate meeting and includes many of the bills discussed at the legislative hearing. The bill passed out of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) unanimously via voice vote.
The bill reflects the work of MOAA, notably our grassroots outreach, as well as efforts from other veterans service organizations (VSOs). The legislation includes both bills supported by MOAA’s Advocacy in Action campaign, along with many other MOAA-backed positions.
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The omnibus bill includes:
- The Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act (S. 927 and H.R. 2127)
- The Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act (S. 437 and H.R. 2436)
- The addition of Agent Orange presumptives for hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, better known as MGUS (S. 810 and H.R. 1972)
- The recognition of radiation exposure in the Enewetak Atoll and from the 1966 accident in Palomares, Spain (S. 565, H.R. 1585, and H.R. 2580)
- Improvements to studies and epidemiological reporting for all exposures
Along with our existing Advocacy in Action bills, MOAA supports the Senate’s omnibus package. Your efforts during Advocacy in Action and prior work on this issue by MOAA have helped lead to what we're hoping is a true effort at comprehensive reform. MOAA has analyzed the omnibus bill, and while it's not perfect -- no omnibus bill ever is -- it's a dramatic step forward in getting these veterans and their families the benefits they deserve.
Hurdles remain and continued outreach and support for comprehensive reforms are even more important to get toxic exposure reforms across the finish line. Despite SVAC passage, it is clear there will be more adjustments before it is sent to the floor.
“My commitment to the ranking member [Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran] is that I will not advance the bill to the floor without his consent,” Tester said during the May 26 hearing. “And I commit to all of you to work in a transparent and bipartisan manner to address any concerns related to cost or potential negative impacts on the VA.”
Once finalized, the Senate needs to first pass the bill and then reconcile any differences with the House version. House Veterans' Affairs Committee leadership has compiled a similar omnibus package, the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2021.
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If you haven't reached out to your lawmakers yet, please ask them to support the omnibus legislation. If you have, follow up with staffers or the lawmaker directly, thank them again for their time and leadership on this issue, and make clear MOAA members nationwide want this omnibus to succeed. Don't let this opportunity at meaningful progress for veterans pass us by -- make your voice heard again on this issue, and spread the word to others in your social circles.
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