Bill addresses war-zone environmental hazards

By Kelly Kennedy – Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Oct 15, 2009 17:05:48 EDT

Legislation has been introduced that would offer long-term care to any veterans exposed to environmental hazards in the line of duty, even if there is no textbook evidence to link the exposure to an illness.   The bill, sponsored by Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., would amend Title 38 of the U.S. Code, which deals with veterans benefits, by adding a passage stating that a veteran exposed in the line of duty to “an occupational and environmental health chemical hazard of particular concern” is eligible for hospital care, medical services and nursing home care for any disability, even if there is “insufficient medical evidence to conclude that such disability may be associated with exposure.”  The bill comes in the wake of a series of hearings about troops being exposed to carcinogenic material at Qarmat Ali water treatment plant in Iraq; a sulfur fire in Mosul, Iraq; and burn-pit smoke throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.  The provision would not cover veterans with illnesses that the National Academy of Sciences says show limited evidence of a positive association of illness and exposure. But it would cover hazards that the Defense Department has determined are “of particular concern after considering appropriate guidelines and standards for exposure,” including those of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  A hearing on the bill has been scheduled for Oct. 21.  Co-sponsors include Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.V.; Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; John Rockefeller, D-W.V.; and Arlen Specter, R-Pa.


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