August 06, 2020

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Passes Manchin Bills

Washington, DC – Today the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) passed 12 bills, including three bills led or cosponsored by U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, CARE for Reservists Act, and Deborah Sampson Act. These bills will now be referred to the entire Senate.

“Today the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, CARE for Reservists Act, and Deborah Sampson Act, three bills I led and co-sponsored to help our Veterans who have served our country,” said Senator Manchin. “We made a promise to the men and women who fought bravely defending America, often in terrible conditions and environments, that when they returned home we would make sure they were taken care of. This legislation does just that by securing benefits for Veterans exposed to open-air burn pits, expands counseling eligibility for National Guard and Reserve members, and improves benefits and care for women Veterans. I am proud of our work to get these bills to the Senate Floor and will continue to work with my bipartisan colleagues to get this commonsense legislation across the finish line. We must hold true to our commitment made to the patriotic men and women who served their country admirably and earned these benefits and care.”

“The Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Recognition Act is the first step in recognizing the impact of toxic exposure to Veterans deployed overseas in support of our Nation.  Many of our Veterans in West Virginia are facing unexplained health complications from their service without support for healthcare and benefits.  Although this bill does not automatically grant benefits or health care it does provide acknowledgement of Veteran’s health issues associated with toxic exposure and opens the door for Veterans to seek treatment and apply for benefits with less resistance from Veterans Affairs.  We thank U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Dan Sullivan (R-AL) for their continued support to Veterans and encourage all Senators, who have Veterans in their states suffering from these exposures, to support this bill,” said David Moske II, Commander, VFW Department of West Virginia.

“As a nation, we have a duty to care for the men and women suffering negative, long-term health effects from exposure to open air burn pits in the course of military service. Today’s approval by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee of the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, helps to further fulfill that duty. We thank Senators Sullivan and Manchin for their leadership in this bipartisan effort that will help eliminate red tape and assist affected veterans seeking benefits for disabilities related to burn pits,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Commander Stephen Whitehead.

Background on legislation led or co-sponsored by Senator Manchin:

Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act of 2019 (S. 2950)

The Veterans Burn Pit Exposure Act would recognize and concede a Veteran’s exposure during deployed service. Specifically the bill would:

  • Acknowledge an information gap. Given the limited information that exists about exactly when and where burn pits were active, or the precise locations of individuals who served near them, it is unreasonable for a Veteran to prove they were exposed to specific toxins from specific burn pits on specific days. 
  • Work in acknowledgment of ongoing research being conducted by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
  • Formally recognize that Veterans who served near burn pits in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations were exposed to airborne hazards, toxins and particulate matters. This recognition and concession can potentially aid thousands of Veterans who otherwise do not have documentation of their exposure.
  • Not automatically grant benefits or healthcare to Veterans who served near a burn pit. It also does not create a presumption of service connection, like Veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The decisions on presumption of service connection will require further scientific study and evidence, much of which is ongoing. Even with a concession of exposure, Veterans will still need to provide sufficient evidence of a link to a specific illness or disease in order to qualify for VA benefits. 

CARE for Reservists Act of 2019 (S. 711)

  • This bill expands eligibility for readjustment counseling at VA Vet Centers to members of the National Guard and Reserves, including access to outpatient care from a certified mental healthcare provider should the Vet Center individualized assessment determine that such care is necessary to facilitate successful readjustment to civilian life. The bill also directs the VA, in consultation with DoD, to furnish mental health services for members of the National Guard and Reserves.

The Deborah Sampson Act (S.514)

  • This bill is an expansive Women Veterans focused legislation named after Deborah Sampson, who became a hero of the American Revolution when she disguised herself as a man and joined the Patriot forces. She was the only woman to earn a full military pension for participation in the Revolutionary Army. The bill would improve the benefits and services provided by VA to women Veterans by:
    • Increasing access to readjustment and related services, including the provision of reintegration and readjustment services to Veterans and family members in group retreat settings and expanding the Women Veterans Call Center to include text messaging
    • Improving access to Legal and Supportive Services such as VA provision of public-private partnerships on legal services for women Veterans, increasing grant funding for Supportive Services for Veteran Families, and performing a gap analysis of VA programs for homeless women Veterans
    • Extending the period of eligibility for newborn care through VA
    • Eliminating barriers to access by enacting Women Veterans Retrofit Initiative to outfit VA medical facilities with the resources necessary to treat women Veterans, increasing women’s health primary care providers at VA medical facilities, increasing funding for the Women Veterans Health Care Mini-Residency Program, establishing a women Veteran training module for outside care providers, and studying the staffing of Women Veteran Program Manager program
    • Improving data collection and reporting by requiring reports on: the availability of prosthetics for women, VA models of medical facilities to treat women Veterans, VA staffing related to women Veterans, and the locations where women Veterans access VA care.