US Senator's View: Veterans can now more easily access their benefits
From the column: "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."
From the muddy fields of Vietnam to the sands of Afghanistan and Iraq, our servicemembers 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 — 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 servicemembers 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 veterans’ 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 Minnesota veterans know how to access the benefits for which they are finally eligible.
For Gulf War and post 9/11 veterans, the VA will now presume these diseases and cancers were service-connected: brain cancer, gastrointestinal cancers, glioblastoma, head cancers, kidney cancer, lymphoma of any type, melanoma, neck cancers, pancreatic cancer, reproductive cancers, respiratory (breathing-related) cancers, asthma diagnosed after service, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic rhinitis, chronic sinusitis, constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease (ILD), pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, and sarcoidosis.
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, or 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 servicemembers that a promise made is a promise kept.
Amy Klobuchar represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.