WASHINGTON, DC—Today, Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) Subcommittee Chair Elaine Luria presided over the Subcommittee’s oversight hearing to examine the presumptive service connection process at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) and explores ways that the VA can more consistently and transparently compensate veterans for health benefits related to toxic exposure during their military service.
In the hearing, the Congresswoman questioned whether training for compensation and pension examiners could explain high rates of denial for service connection for illnesses related to toxic exposures. The witness from the Government Accountability Office, which has conducted oversight of the way claims for Gulf War Illness and burn pit exposure are handled, pointed out that poor-quality exams and insufficient exam reports can cause delays for veterans and even inadvertent denials. The Congresswoman also pressed witnesses on how to remove the burden from veterans to prove exposure to burn pits to receive VA benefits for their illnesses.
“VA’s approach for tackling the issues of toxic airborne hazards and burn pits is more crucial than ever as we continue to see young servicemembers succumb to illnesses associated with that exposure. We need to know why so many diseases so not have a presumption of service-connection,” said Congresswoman Elaine Luria. “The 78% denial rates deter veterans from applying for benefits at VA and discourage them from even trying since their chances are so slim. That is the opposite of what veterans should feel about VA. We must do better.”
Congresswoman Luria has consistently worked across party lines to ensure that our veterans receive the support and care they need. Last year, she championed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act as it passed through DAMA before becoming law. This law provides long-overdue health benefits to Vietnam-era veterans who served 12 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam and experienced health complications from Agent Orange.