Bill would require VA to cover treatment of veterans exposed to PFAS
By JEFF MCMENEMY | Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H. | Published: April 4, 2019
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas joined a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers, who on Thursday morning introduced the Veterans Exposed to Toxic PFAS Act.
The legislation would require the Veterans Administration to cover treatment of any health conditions caused by PFAS exposure, and will make veterans and their families eligible for VA disability benefits.
The widows of several guardsmen who served at the 157th Air Refueling Wing of the National Guard at the former Pease Air Force Base have told Seacoast Sunday their husbands were told they weren't eligible for VA benefits despite their service.
Doris Brock, whose husband Kendall Brock served 35 years at the guard base before dying from bladder and prostate cancer, has repeatedly called for servicemen like her husband to be covered by the VA.
During a press conference on Capitol Hill Thursday, Pappas pointed to the concerns that have been raised about what Brock and others say are an unusually high number of cancers at the base. Pappas called the announcement of the legislation "an important day for veterans across the country to say that we have their backs."
The legislation also shows lawmakers "are willing to do what it takes to honor their service and to make sure they get access to the health care that they need and deserve," Pappas said.
He noted PFAS exposure at the former Pease Air Force Base "reached back decades to both military families and civilian populations."
The Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Research released a report this week that stated civilians and military personnel working at Pease from 1993 to 2014 were exposed to PFAS chemicals through the city of Portsmouth's public water system.
Children and infants at two day cares were also exposed to the dangerous chemicals, and the exposure can cause harmful health effects, including possibly cancer, according to ATSDR's report.
People at Pease, like Testing for Pease co-founder and Portsmouth mother Andrea Amico, have fought for answers for years about how PFAS might harm their families.
"They know what the scientific data says; that PFAS is a serious public health threat," Pappas said, adding exposure to the chemicals have been linked to chronic health conditions including cancer.
They also know, Pappas said, that "these contaminants are dangerous even at far lower levels than the EPA's current health advisory recommends."
The city closed the polluted well Haven well in May 2014 after the Air Force found high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, in the well.
The EPA in May 2016 set permanent health advisories for PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA at 70 parts per trillion.
The legislation will provide a "a presumption of service connection for veterans," Pappas said, which will give veterans access to health care and also VA disability benefits.
The legislation "renews the solemn obligation we have to those who have selflessly served the rest of us," Pappas said.
U.S. Rep Dan Kildee, D-Mich., said during Thursday's press conference that it's now known that PFAS chemicals are "more and not less dangerous than initially believed."
He pointed out that when veterans "sign up to serve in the United States military we make a promise to them that in exchange for their service we'll take care of them and their families."
Veterans and their families have been exposed to these "dangerous chemicals," often unknowingly, on military bases across the country, Kildee said.
He said "exposure to PFAS has been linked to a number of health issues, including cancer, high cholesterol, weakened immune system and hypertension during pregnancy."
"The military has refused to cover many of these issues," Kildee said Thursday. "This bill will ensure they do that."
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., speaks at an April 4, 2019 Capitol Hill news conference introducing the Veterans Exposed to Toxic PFAS Act, which would help provide VA health care services and benefits to veterans and families dealing with the effects of toxic fluorinated compounds at military installations. Behind her are Reps. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., and Andy Levin, D-Mich.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES