Vol. 55, No. 5

In this edition

For the third year in a row, The Ripon Forum is dedicating an entire edition to the Veterans Day holiday and those brave men and women who risked their lives in defense of America.   

VA Update: Our Work for Veterans is Never Done

Our country made a binding pact with our servicemembers. Upholding our end of the bargain is a moral obligation.

Equipping Our Veterans for the Next Season of Service

Too many of these servicemembers struggle to have their talents fully understood and utilized amidst transitioning back to civilian life.

Burn Pits Cannot be the Next Agent Orange

Otherwise-healthy veterans are suffering from uncommon cancers that may be result of exposure to open-air burn pits. The time for action is now.

“You kept us safe. You did your duty.”

Members of the United States military have done more to liberate humankind from oppression and tyranny … than any other force in human history.

“We honor veterans’ service and sacrifice for this great nation.”

There is something incredibly unique about those who sacrifice so much to serve our country – who choose to run towards conflict in the name of freedom.

“There is no greater calling than service to country”

There is no greater calling than service to one’s nation. And if there’s one thing veterans understand, it is that service never stops.

“We remember and honor the sacrifices, both large and small.”

At one point in every veteran’s life, they made the tough decision to leave behind the comforts of home to fight for a cause bigger than themselves.

More Needs to Be Done to Meet the Mental Health Challenges Facing Veterans

Transitioning from active duty brings many challenges and mental health stressors.

How Veterans View the U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Like the public, they are deeply divided along party lines.

We Said We’d Never Forget: Will We?

For the first time in 20 years, we celebrate Veterans Day in relative peace.

Burn Pits Cannot be the Next Agent Orange

“Every day I wonder, ‘Is today the day that toxic exposure catches up with me?’” Navy veteran James L. Price said as he closed out his testimony before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in May. 

Lauren Price, Jim’s late wife, was a dedicated sailor and advocate for “her all,” as she so graciously referred to her brothers and sisters in arms. At the age of 56, Lauren lost her life to cancer in March 2021, just 44 days after she was diagnosed. I was honored to invite Jim to speak about Lauren and about his own veteran experience. I will carry the Price family in my heart for the rest of my life, but the fact is that stories like theirs are all too common.  

Hundreds of thousands of veterans who, like Lauren, are otherwise healthy and in the prime of their lives are suffering from uncommon cancers: leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, vision loss, and more, following their time in uniform. They believe those diagnoses are a result of exposure to dangerous chemicals from open-air burns pits, particulate matter, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), or other toxins while serving. However, because it can take years, if ever, for science to conclusively prove that a diagnosis or disability is caused by an exposure, these veterans often can’t get the support they need from VA. In some cases, that proof is impossible to attain due to the nature of the exposure or how long it has been since it occurred. That is what prevented some Vietnam-era veterans from receiving benefits for Agent Orange exposure until decades after their service. Congress finally delivered benefits to Blue Water Navy Vietnam veterans in 2019, 44 years after the Vietnam War ended. We cannot let the same travesty wreak havoc on veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet VA estimates that half of all claims for compensation related to burn pit exposure are denied.

I don’t want any servicemember or veteran – particularly not one who is sick – to have to fight for the benefits they have earned or wait decades for science to catch up to their reality. 

Toxic exposure hits close to home for me, not just as the Republican leader on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a veteran myself, but also as the father and grandfather of two active-duty Marines. I don’t want any servicemember or veteran – particularly not one who is sick – to have to fight for the benefits they have earned or wait decades for science to catch up to their reality. That’s why, two days before Lauren’s passing, I introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Toxic Exposures in the American Military (TEAM) Act.

U.S. Army soldiers watch garbage burn in a burn-pit at Forward Operating Base Azzizulah in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, in February 2013.

The TEAM Act would make it easier for toxic-exposed veterans to enroll in the VA health care system and file for VA benefits. It would also improve training for VA staff in how to identify and treat toxic exposure and, perhaps most importantly, require further research into toxic exposure to ensure that science keeps pace with the needs of toxic-exposed servicemembers and veterans. The TEAM Act would do right by these men and women today and tomorrow by delivering the services they need now and ensuring that future decisions regarding their care and benefits are made by scientists, not politicians.  

Policymakers from both sides of the aisle and the Administration must get together to find a bipartisan, fiscally-responsible, and scientifically-sound solution.

Many aspects of the TEAM Act are included in the toxic exposure omnibus bills advanced by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in May and, along a party-line vote, by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in June. But it’s now Veterans Day and we are no closer to delivering the support that toxic-exposed veterans need than we were when Jim testified before Memorial Day. That is a shame on the Democrat-controlled Congress and the Biden Administration, who are apparently more focused on their trillion-dollar spending sprees than on caring for the men and women who safeguarded our democracy in the first place.  

Enacting meaningful legislation for toxic-exposed veterans will be costly and complicated. Preliminary estimates from VA indicate that it could cost several hundred billion dollars to extend health care and compensation benefits to toxic-exposed veterans. Those costs could be driven even higher if Congressional Democrats succeed in staying well ahead of science by establishing a laundry list of diagnoses that would be eligible for automatic compensation, absent any evidence to attempt to tie them to toxic exposure. That’s why policymakers from both sides of the aisle and the Administration must get together to find a bipartisan, fiscally-responsible, and scientifically-sound solution that can be paid for and that can pass the House and the Senate and be signed into law. I have been calling on my Democratic colleagues to do that for months. The time for action is now, in honor of toxic-exposed veterans like Jim, like Lauren, and the thousands more that are leaving us far too soon every day.

Mike Bost represents the 12th district of Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives where he serves as the Ranking Member on the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Congressman Bost served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1979 to 1982 where he was trained as an electronic specialist and radar repairman.