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Rep. Titus Introduces Legislation to Expand VA Care for Radiation-Exposed Veterans

"Veterans at the Nevada Test Site put themselves in harm’s way in service to our country. We cannot continue to leave any of them behind."

Washington, DC – Today Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-01) introduced legislation to eliminate bureaucratic barriers to benefits that our atomic veterans exposed to toxic radiation have faced. Her Providing Radiation Exposed Servicemembers Undisputed Medical Eligibility (PRESUME) Act would prohibit the VA from requiring evidence of a certain dose of radiation to determine if a veteran is considered radiation-exposed for the purposes of “presumptive benefits.”

“In the course of their service, like anyone on the battlefield, veterans at the Nevada Test Site put themselves in harm’s way in service to our country. We cannot continue to leave any of them behind. The bureaucratic barriers to care could be easily fixed through my legislation,” said Rep. Titus. “Our country’s atomic veterans helped win the peace during the Cold War, and they must be able to access the highest standard of care available.”

Under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), civilians who contracted cancer and certain other diseases from exposure to radiation can receive compensation without having to navigate the VA’s bureaucratic testing hurdles. By contrast, multiple Nevada Test Site veterans interviewed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal “were never told” that they “were being exposed to anything” radioactive and have been “denied anything [for compensation] that the civilians were already given.” Many, the Review-Journal reported, “have pulmonary issues or some type of cancer.”

To establish entitlement to what the VA has categorized as “presumptive diseases” due to radiation exposure, a veteran must provide proof of on-site participation as well as radiation dose estimates from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. Radiation dose estimates have historically been unreliable, leaving many exposed veterans unable to obtain the compensation they have earned.

“For veterans made ill by radiation exposure during their time in uniform, the current process to get their diseases service-connected by the Department of Veterans Affairs is extremely cumbersome. Not only does the VA require proof of a veteran’s onsite participation in a radiation risk activity, but it also requires radiation dose estimates from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and then a medical opinion supporting the veteran’s claim that exposure to radiation caused their disease. However, other government radiation programs do not require claimants to prove causation of their diseases related to radiation exposure, nor require dose estimates of such exposures. This unfair practice must be halted. DAV proudly supports the PRESUME Act as it would remove the barriers established by dated VA regulations and provide equity with other government programs by removing the radiation dose estimate requirements. We applaud Rep. Titus for her leadership in introducing this important legislation which will bring parity to veterans exposed to radiation,” said Shane Liermann, Deputy National Legislative Director for Disabled American Veterans.

“Veterans are a uniting issue for America as they are the protectors of our freedom. For many veterans, ionizing radiation is a significant issue and is the focus of our advocacy at The Invisible Enemy. Rep. Titus’ bill to remove the dosage requirement is very important as dosage is often impossible to prove but the impact of that exposure on veteran’s lives is significant. The Invisible Enemy 100% supports Rep. Titus on her effort to help our brothers and sisters in their quest for the benefits so deserved and earned,” said Dave Crete, Chairman of the Las Vegas-based The Invisible Enemy.

“Representative Titus’ PRESUME Act will go a long way towards resolving the burden and battle Atomic Veterans have obtaining care they were promised and have earned. Despite a presumption provision in title 38, our Veterans experience denial of care based on the claim that their doses were not sufficient to cause the conditions they seek care for,” said Keith Kiefer, National Commander for the National Association of Atomic Veterans.

“The VFW supports the Providing Radiation Exposed Servicemembers Undisputed Medical Eligibility Act (PRESUME Act) that eliminates dose assessment requirements for radiation-exposed veterans. Many military missions have exposed service members to varying radiation levels which have resulted in presumptive related illnesses. Service members did not measure the level of sacrifice they made while executing their duties in service to this country and this country should not measure the level of radiation exposure they endured while serving to determine their eligibility for benefit awards. The VFW thanks Congresswoman Titus for drafting this legislation that eliminates the evidence requirements of dose assessments to determine certain presumptive illnesses for veterans exposed to radiation,” said Quandrea Patterson, Associate Director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ National Legislative Service.

"Last year the PACT ACT helped to recognize forgotten victims of exposure to radiation due to testing and cleanup. Representative Titus' bill will ensure the VA will not require a minimum dosage to be eligible for the presumption. Radiation affects the human body in different ways and some people will have a severe reaction to even a low dose. Any radiation above background levels can be harmful and veterans should be treated and compensated for disabilities resulting from even minimal exposure. Military-Veterans Advocacy stands with Congresswoman Titus on this issue and strongly supports this bill,” said J.B. Wells, Chairman of Military-Veterans Advocacy.

This legislation is endorsed by the following groups: Disabled American Veterans, The Invisible Enemy, Veterans of Foreign Wars, National Association of Atomic Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Military-Veterans Advocacy, and Enewetak Atoll Atomic Cleanup Veterans.