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New House Bill Aims to Protect Veteran Survivor Benefits in the Midst of Coronavirus Pandemic

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic has presented many problems for veterans. One of which being the potentially diminished benefits for surviving family members after a veteran passes away due to the virus. Currently, if a veteran has contracted the virus and subsequently passes away and the autopsy states that the cause of death is solely coronavirus and omits service-connected disabilities, it potentially puts much needed survivor benefits at risk.

Warren Davidson, a House Representative from Ohio, has introduced The Ensuring Survivors Benefits during COVID-19 Act, which addresses this very problem. The law would require the VA to account for service-related disabilities that might have exacerbated the virus and contributed to a veteran’s death.

Davidson, a former Army infantry officer himself, said in a statement, “Presently, the cause of death rulings threatens benefits veterans have earned. Congress must act to ensure that the VA accurately deals with the cause of death while accounting for service-related injuries in order to properly care for all surviving family members.”

Both veterans exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and post-9/11 veterans exposed to burn pits have increased risk of a myriad of health complications. This group approximately accounts for a staggering 7 million veterans, all of which at risk for health complications due to exposure. Moreover, the likelihood that these veterans have serious complications if they contract the coronavirus is well above average.

Thus far, the VA has admitted 62,757 veterans infected with the virus to department facilities. Reportedly 3,469 (about 5.5%) have died, according to the latest VA data. Considering the health complications associated with exposure to Agent Orange and burn pits which include cancers, respiratory issues, and lung diseases, this number of deaths could potentially be much higher.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota urged VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in April to be more proactive with caring for younger veterans with respiratory issues from exposure. “Given the significant number of at-risk veterans, it is critical that the VA prioritizes efforts to ensure that these brave men and women are able to safely receive care during the current public health crisis.”

Given the admittedly frustrating stance the VA has taken on connecting burn pit exposure to serious illnesses, it is not surprising that they would omit such pre-existing conditions as causes of death when a veteran has the virus. Davidson’s bill has been sponsored by representatives on both sides of the aisle and gives hope to surviving family members of those veterans that have sadly passed due to complications with the virus.

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