Servicemembers put their lives and their health on the line to keep us safe. Even those who come home sometimes face long-term health risks from their service.
And too often, we have not gotten these veterans the care and the benefits that they earned and deserve – particularly those exposed to toxic substances while serving in uniform.
It’s why I’ve worked with colleagues of both parties for years to bring more attention to this. And last month, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee finally announced a bipartisan deal to guarantee that all veterans, of all generations, who suffer because of toxic exposure will get the VA benefits they earned, for the first time in our country’s history.
The comprehensive legislation is named in honor of Ohio veteran Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, who deployed to Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard, and passed away in 2020 from cancer as a result of toxic exposure during his military service.
His widow, Danielle Robinson, has been a determined advocate for this cause, and was the First Lady’s guest at the State of the Union this year, to underscore the President’s commitment to getting this done.
I’m honored to be the longest serving Ohioan on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and we have pushed the committee to hold hearings to highlight this long-ignored issue, and the hurdles these veterans face. For years we’ve worked to expand the number of veterans who could get VA benefits – but we had to do it condition by condition, and location-of-service by location-of-service.
That process left too many veterans behind. This deal would finally expand VA health care eligibility to all post-9/11 combat veterans, including more than 3.5 million who were exposed to toxic smoke. It would also expand presumptions for veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list that make veterans eligible for care and benefits.
My office holds roundtables with veterans all over Ohio, and I’ve heard Ohio veterans raise this issue again and again.
With this bipartisan agreement, I’m hopeful the Senate will act on this bill this month. Providing health care and benefits for veterans who suffer from toxic exposure is a cost of going to war, and I’m committed to getting these veterans the care they need and benefits they deserve, after sacrificing so much for our country.