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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McDERMOTT. Mr. Chair, I rise today to introduce my amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013 to encourage and strengthen information and data sharing between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense related to environmental exposures of service members.

Attributing a medical diagnosis or set of symptoms to an environmental exposure can be challenging, especially exposures that occurred years or decades in the past. Of course, this is a big concern and source of frustration for service members, veterans and their families. We have seen this challenge time and again in our Nation's history, whether it is understanding Agent Orange exposures or the Gulf War Syndrome.

Today's service members may be exposed to hazards including air contamination resulting from burn pits, industrial toxic chemicals, chemical and biological warfare agents, toxic contaminants such those resulting from munitions containing depleted uranium, and others. The long-term health consequences of these hazardous environmental exposures remain uncertain.

A recent Government Accountability Office report looked at the Pentagon's policies regarding environmental exposures and identified a need for a comprehensive plan on environmental exposures of service members, including recommendations for what the Defense Department can do to identify and address possible health risks resulting from environmental exposures.

The NDAA for Fiscal Year 2013 under consideration by the House this week contains a provision requiring the Defense Department to develop a comprehensive plan on researching and documenting environmental exposure incidents to members of the Armed Forces. However, this provision does not explicitly connect this plan to the ongoing health information data sharing between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

My amendment addresses this by having the Defense Department include in their plan a comprehensive status update on their sharing of environmental exposure data with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. This information should be available to the VA to be examined over time, over decades even, to address exposure-related questions and identify possible origins and causes of disease. Data sharing should be done in a timely, ongoing, and updateable manner so that the Department of Veterans Affairs is alerted to hazardous exposure events and information on environmental exposure events can be updated when there is new information.

Mr. Chair, the goal of my amendment is to enhance interdepartmental coordination and collaboration so that active duty members of the armed forces and veterans exposed to harmful toxins as a result of their military service get the answers, attention and treatment they and their families need.

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