Press Release

Sens. Welch, Sanders, Shaheen, and Hassan and Reps. Balint, Kuster, and Pappas Send Letter to Secretary McDonough, Calling for Expanding Access to Benefits for Veterans who Served in Kosovo

May 16, 2023

Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) led the Vermont and New Hampshire congressional delegations in sending a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Denis R. McDonough today, urging the VA to use authority granted under the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 to make it easier for veterans stationed in Kosovo from 1999 onwards to access health care and disability benefits for conditions related to toxic substance exposure during their service. The letter was signed by Senators Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Representatives Becca Balint (D-VT), Chris Pappas (D-NH), and Ann Kuster (D-NH), and responds to concerns raised by the Vermont National Guard.  

“The cost of the war must include the cost of caring for the warrior—wherever they served,” said Sen. Welch. “When we passed the PACT Act, we took a huge step forward to ensure that’s the case for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service. We must maintain that commitment by helping more veterans access the care they need and deserve quickly and efficiently. I’m proud to lead my colleagues to call on the VA to do just that and ensure that veterans who were exposed to toxic substances in Kosovo are granted the same presumptions of exposure as those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.” 

“As a former chair and longtime member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, one of my highest priorities in the Senate is ensuring our nation’s veterans have access to the quality health care and benefits they have earned and deserve,” said Sen. Sanders. “I’m proud to have supported the Honoring Our PACT Act which offered the most comprehensive expansion of benefits and health care to our nation’s veterans in a generation. This was an important step; however, to my mind, the bill didn’t go far enough, leaving veterans who served in Kosovo downwind from an open-air burn pit without the care and benefits they need. We owe it to these veterans in Vermont and across the country to ensure they receive the benefits of the PACT Act, and I hope the Secretary will take the appropriate action in his authority to ensure these veterans receive those benefits.” 

“Ensuring our service members, no matter the mission, have access to the information they need to inform their health decisions is paramount. That’s why I was proud to support the PACT Act, which expanded health care for veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances,” said Sen. Shaheen. “The PACT Act was a historic step forward to deliver the answers and provide access to care that our veterans need, but we must ensure those actions are as inclusive as possible and is why I’m calling for the VA to expand the authority granted in the PACT Act to include those who served in Kosovo. The Granite State has proudly deployed members of the New Hampshire National Guard to support the NATO Mission in Kosovo (KFOR), and for their service, they are owed the same access to information to guide their care as others who have similarly served.” 

“Many veterans who served in Kosovo, including members of the New Hampshire National Guard, are at risk of serious illness due to toxic chemical exposure during their deployment,” said Senator Hassan. “The bipartisan PACT Act that my colleagues and I developed and passed into law took important steps to get health care to veterans who were exposed to toxic substances in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is crucial that veterans who were exposed to burn pits in additional parts of the world can get the health care that they need as well. We must continue to provide high-quality care to veterans who have made tremendous sacrifices to keep the rest of us safe, secure, and free.” 

“We have an obligation to keep our veterans healthy and safe upon their return,” said Rep. Balint. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in calling on the VA to ensure our National Guardsmen here in Vermont and New Hampshire get the care and benefits they need.”  

“The brave men and women who were exposed to toxic chemicals while serving our country in uniform deserve access to the health care and benefits they have earned,” said Rep. Kuster. “I was proud to help pass the PACT Act to live up to our promise to our nation’s service members, but the list of veterans protected by that legislation was not exhaustive. We must add our veterans who served in Kosovo to the presumption of exposure so they can access the care they need.” 

“The Honoring Our PACT Act was a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation that helped expand health care to three million toxic-exposed veterans,” said Rep. Pappas. “The legislation, at last, codifies into law what veterans have known for decades: toxic exposure is a cost of war. It also granted VA the authority to establish new presumptions of exposure for veterans depending on where and when they serve. That is why I am urging the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that those who served in Kosovo are granted the same presumption of exposure as veterans who served in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. These servicemembers bravely opposed a brutal dictator and put an end to horrific ethnic cleansing, saving countless lives. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their service, and that includes ensuring they get the care and support they have earned for being exposed to toxic substances while standing against extremism and defending America’s values abroad.” 

The Honoring Our PACT Act expanded VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, toxic chemicals, and other airborne hazards during service. The bill also granted the VA flexibility to add more locations to the list of deployment sites for which veterans are not required to prove they were exposed to airborne hazards such as burn pits. The lawmakers’ letter urges the Department to add a presumption of exposure to burn bits and other airborne hazards for veterans who served in Kosovo from 1999 onwards and, in so doing, expedite and facilitate their access to essential VA benefits. 

To read the full text of the letter, please click here