Ensuring Minnesota veterans can get the care they’ve earned

Whether they served in the jungles of Vietnam, the mountains of Afghanistan, or the sands of Iraq, when our veterans signed up to serve our country, there wasn’t a waiting line. When they return home from duty and need a job, education, housing, or health care, there should never be a waiting line in the United States of America.

That’s why for years I worked alongside Minnesota veterans and families to ensure that veterans exposed to toxic substances, including burn pits in the Middle East and Agent Orange in Vietnam, could get the high-quality, affordable health care they need through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

For too long, our vets had to jump through bureaucratic hoops to prove the obvious — that their conditions, be they high blood pressure from Agent Orange or cancer from exposure to burn pits, were related to their service — and in some cases, they still found they weren’t eligible to receive care through the VA.

That changed when Congress came together to pass the PACT Act.

In March, the VA announced that it is now able to provide health care for all vets who were exposed to toxins or served in the Vietnam War or any combat zone after 9/11. That means millions of vets can apply for VA health care up to eight years earlier than expected. This is a game-changer for the 118,000 Minnesota vets who the VA estimates benefit from the PACT Act. In our state alone, more than 8,000 vets have already applied for care.

I think of the Starks family, who I had the privilege of meeting in March. Jerald Starks served our country in the Army for 16 years, and his dedication to service didn’t end when he got home — he went on to work in law enforcement and for the Postal Service. He tragically passed away from leukemia related to burn pit exposure, but during his cancer battle, the PACT Act ensured he and his family could afford care.

In the wake of the VA’s announcement, I am focused on ensuring all Minnesota veterans can get the health care they need. If you or a loved one served and may have been exposed to burn pits or toxins of any kind, I encourage you to enroll in health care through the PACT Act.

You no longer have to file a disability claim to receive this care — if you were exposed to toxins or served in the Vietnam War or any combat zone after 9/11, you are eligible to enroll in VA health care today and will have access for life. Visit VA.gov/PACT or call 1-800-MYVA411 to learn more. For assistance, you can also call my office at 612-727-5220.

Just as our veterans made a promise to defend our nation, we make a promise to be there for them when they come home. By expanding access to health care, we are letting our veterans and service members know that when the United States of America makes a promise, we keep it.

— Amy Klobuchar represents the State of Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.


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