Armed Forces News

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Veterans who suffer from health maladies related to their exposure to toxins emitted from burn pits will have greater access to treatment.

The White House announced Nov. 11 a plan to expedite delivery of care to these sick veterans, even though research in some cases has not yet proved a direct link between exposure and illness.

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“In order to deliver benefits more quickly to veterans who developed disabilities due to environmental hazards and to lower the evidentiary burden on such veterans, VA [the Department of Veterans Affairs] developed a new model to accelerate the decision-making process to consider adding new presumptive conditions,” the White House stated.

The new guidelines are based upon information garnered from National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reports, as well as data provided by VA. The White House statement noted that since August, VA has been processing claims from veterans who contracted asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis within 10 years of their military service.

Presumption of service connection could soon be expanded to include rare respiratory cancers and constrictive bronchiolitis. President Biden has directed VA to study the relationship of these diseases and burn-pit exposure, and deliver findings to him by mid-February.

The directive also calls for VA to accelerate and expand the delivery schedule for the Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record (ILER), which the Veterans Affairs and Defense Departments jointly use to track, record and access environmental and occupational exposure to potentially hazardous substances.

Veterans also should be getting notification of the benefits available to them. The directive calls for several outreach initiatives. VA claims adjudicators, military Transition Assistance Programs (TAP) and the Solid Start program all would follow protocols that facilitate reaching out to veterans with relevant information. Additionally, VA will launch a campaign of related public service announcements.

Health-care providers within and outside of the VA system will get expanded training, provided under contract with the American College of Preventive Medicine.

Veterans also will have access to a network of specialized providers and a call center. The Veterans Exposure Team-Health Outcomes of Military Exposures (VET-HOME) program will launch sometime next year. Veterans who reach out to VET-HOME would be referred to providers via a telemedicine platform.

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The five-year window for the three million veterans who served during Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and New Dawn (Iraq) to submit claims to VA would be expanded.

Troops used burn pits to dispose of refuse and trash during these operations. In many cases, materials that should never have been burned were included, and the pits themselves were situated in close proximity to troops. Veterans’ organizations have worked for relief for comrades who became sick as a result since the first Gulf War in 1991.

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