GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan lawmaker is working to revive an old piece of legislation that would provide coverage for veterans dealing with health conditions related to PFAS exposure.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, reintroduced the Veterans Exposed to Toxic PFAS Act last month. It was originally introduced in 2022 along with a companion piece introduced in the Senate by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, but neither piece of legislation advanced out of committee.
PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are a large group of compounds first developed in the 1940s and incorporated into all sorts of products for waterproofing and heat resistance. Decades later, research showed that PFAS compounds take a long time to break down organically and can build up in the human body. That buildup has been found to cause several different health issues, ranging from higher cholesterol and ulcerative colitis to thyroid disease and different types of cancer.
PFAS chemicals and traces of contamination are now found virtually everywhere but are a major problem at military bases. A study conducted by the Environmental Working Group in 2020 found more than 700 military sites that have caused PFAS contamination or likely have caused PFAS contamination in its community — including 19 in Michigan.
“We made a promise to those who signed up to serve our country that we would take care of them and their families,” Kildee said in a statement. “This bill makes good on that promise by ensuring that all service members exposed to toxic chemicals as part of their military service get the health care they need.”
The legislation is endorsed by many veterans’ affairs groups and environmental activists, including the Great Lakes PFAS Action Network.
“Veterans and their families are among the most highly exposed people in America to toxic PFAS chemicals. They have to put their lives on the line for our country, and we as a nation have a duty to provide them with the health care services that they need,” GLPAN co-chair Tony Spaniola said in a release.
The coverage proposed in the legislation would be handled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Hospital care and medical services would only be covered for a condition that can be tied directly to exposure from a military installation.
Veterans would receive coverage if they served in active duty on a PFAS-contaminated base and have a known PFAS-related condition. Family members can also receive coverage, but only after all other insurance claims are exhausted.
The VET PFAS Act mirrors the PACT Act that was passed last year, providing benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals in burn pits while serving overseas.
NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify the difference in health coverage between veterans and their family members.