How the VET PFAS Act could help veterans injured by toxic exposure at military bases 

More than 43,000 veterans receive a cancer diagnosis every year across the country, and a major contributing factor to this harrowing statistic is toxic exposure occurring at military bases.  

Right now, there are 710 military installations contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances nationwide. By training at these facilities, service members are inevitably exposed to these harmful agents, also known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” which increase their risk of developing cancer later in life. 

Additionally, exposure to PFAS is responsible for health problems such as high cholesterol, thyroid disease, fertility issues, preeclampsia, ulcerative colitis and liver damage. Sadly, most veterans who have the misfortune of coming to struggle with a disease encounter many obstacles in accessing the health care they deserve, and in a lot of cases, this is a matter of life or death. However, the situation might change in the near future if the VET PFAS Act, a new bill, is passed and signed into law. 

Home to four military bases, Nevada has a population of approximately 205,615 former service members. Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which is partly operated by the military, is one of the facilities in the state with a high concentration of “forever chemicals” in the water. Built in 1929, the airport has a PFAS level of 119,700 parts per trillion, which exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s new safe exposure limit of 4 parts per trillion by 29,925 times. Another military installation with a staggering PFAS level in the environment is Naval Air Station Fallon, with a concentration of “forever chemicals” of 1,670,000 parts per trillion, eclipsing the safe exposure limit by a whopping 417,500 times. 

Because PFAS can infiltrate water systems close to military bases or airports, the drinking water of people living near these installations is also contaminated with “forever chemicals.” Research has recently found PFAS in surface waters and sediments in the Reno area. In Fallon, because other toxic substances might have been used at the nearby military base, the drinking water supply now contains 12 contaminants over the maximum permissible limit, among which are bromoform, radium, arsenic and trihalomethanes. Although the health of residents might be at risk, the people who are the most susceptible to developing illnesses are veterans, as they came in direct contact with these agents. 

Since many veterans have difficulties accessing health care for the health issues they developed as a consequence of “forever chemicals” exposure at military bases, the VET PFAS Act was introduced on July 17, 2023, by Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman. The bill would provide hospital care and medical services to veterans and dependents who were stationed at military bases where they were exposed to PFAS. Moreover, it would establish a presumption of service connection for certain veterans who were stationed at military installations at which they were exposed to “forever chemicals” so they can access the VA benefits to which they are entitled. 

The VET PFAS Act would help veterans with thyroid disease, kidney cancer, high cholesterol, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis and preeclampsia. A lot of veterans affected by PFAS exposure experience financial hardship due to the high cost of treatment, which is why this bill would be of tremendous help if it became law. For example, the annual treatment cost of kidney cancer can reach nearly $200,000, which, for many veterans, is unaffordable without VA health care.  

Cancer, as well as most diseases caused by PFAS exposure, can take a heavy toll on veterans’ finances, which is why this bill could be the difference between life and death for many. 

Jonathan Sharp is the chief financial officer at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C., a Birmingham, Ala., law firm that provides assistance to veterans injured by toxic exposure at military bases across the country.