WASHINGTON, D.C.— Congresswoman Elaine Luria today introduced legislation to secure benefits for military veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, East Africa, and the Philippines. The Conceding Our Veterans’ Exposure Now and Necessitating Training (COVENANT) Act is the first bill addressing toxic exposure to include both a comprehensive list of overseas locations that would qualify a veteran for earned benefits, as well as a comprehensive list of presumptive illnesses contracted as a result of airborne exposure.
“This legislation is going to secure benefits for thousands of veterans who have sacrificed for their country only to be denied what they deserve,” said Congresswoman Luria, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. “People like Brian Graves, a veteran from Virginia Beach, who served in Iraq and is living with the effects of toxic exposure, deserve to have a VA that is responsive to their needs and a Congress that will prioritize their health care.”
The COVENANT Act will dramatically streamline the VA benefits process by conceding exposure to hazardous compounds present in these locations and requiring compensation and pension (C&P) examinations and medical opinions for non-presumptive conditions through VA. From June 2007 to February 2021, more than 13,900 veterans filed a disability benefit claim for a burn pit related condition, but less than 4,000 of those claims were granted as due to burn pits. More than 230,000 veterans have joined VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which documents self-reported health impacts that range from unexplained chronic illnesses to cancers and respiratory conditions. This legislation also ensures qualifying veterans are granted Priority Group 6 VHA healthcare.
“The burden of proof shouldn’t be on our veterans to get the benefits they deserve, and there’s no reason that they and their survivors should have to fight VA for the care and benefits they earned,” Congresswoman Luria said. “We cannot allow our veterans to face the same hardship as the veterans of past battles, who were exposed to toxins but waited decades for the research to catch up. They need to be compensated now for their sacrifice to our country.”
The COVENANT Act will cover veterans who served on or after August 2, 1990, performed active military, naval, or air service while assigned to a duty station in: Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or the United Arab Emirates. It also will cover veterans who served on or after September 11, 2001, performed active military, naval, or air service while assigned to a duty station in: Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Uzbekistan, the Philippines, or any other country determined relevant by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The COVENANT Act includes more than 15 presumptive disabilities covering respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic bronchitis, and several different types of cancers.
Congresswoman Luria has consistently worked across party lines to ensure that our veterans receive the support and care they need. In 2019, she championed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act as it passed through the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee 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.