WASHINGTON—Military service members can be exposed to many toxic substances in their occupations that most nonmilitary can’t fathom or appreciate.Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs (SVAC), said at a hearing on Sep. 29 that the modern battlefield has all sorts of toxic substances perilous even for the veteran not engaged in combat.
Service members, and sometimes their families, contract maladies, especially cancer, that manifests after leaving service. Then they must face the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, a bureaucracy that may be slow or unwilling to recognize the connection between the veteran’s illness and his or her exposure to a toxic substance during service.
“While the impact is undeniable, establishing and qualifying a clear link between the [toxic] exposures and health effects has become an intolerably long and complex process,” said Blumenthal.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs heard from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), the Institute of Medicine (IOM), several veterans groups, and three angry U.S. senators.
Emotions ran high at the hearing as advocates for veterans strongly disagreed with representatives of VA on the way veterans’ claims are processed, and on the efficacy of two bills that the committee is considering—S.901 and S.681—which the veterans’ organizations strongly support.
VA was accused of obstructing and evading the granting of benefits to deserving individuals who may lack the resources or strength to fight the bureaucracy. The VA responded that it has a scientific process for assessing claims.