September 2021


that welcomes women veterans and makes them feel like they belong. It mandates primary care for female veterans at all medical centers and clinics, expanding eligibility and access to counseling, and improving standards for providing women’s health care. Building on this foundation is something I’m committed to because this is just the beginning of the work necessary to make certain all veterans have access to the benefits and services our nation owes them. Just last month, my latest policy initiative to further improve women veterans’ care through the VA passed out of committee unanimously. This bill, the Supporting Expanded Review for Veterans in Combat Environments (SERVICE) Act, would require the VA to conduct mammograms for all women who served in areas associated with burn pits and other toxic exposures regardless of age, symptoms or family history. The incidence of breast cancer in women veterans and military populations is estimated to be up to 40 percent higher than the general population, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health and is believed to be correlated to their proximity to burn pits and other toxic exposure occurrences. Knowing this is the case, getting women veterans screened for breast cancer early makes perfect sense. Therefore, I’m working to make sure the VA does so. Finally, one issue that has direct ties to Arkansas has also seen some progress this year. Mena resident Bill Rhodes originally approached my office and informed us of the VA’s presumptions for

toxic exposure as it relates to those who served in Thailand in the VietnamWar era. To the concern of many, arbitrary restrictions are preventing veterans like Mr. Rhodes, who has developed illnesses linked to Agent Orange, from proving toxic exposure in order to qualify for VA benefits. I reintroduced legislation to correct this inequity, and the Senate VA Committee passed it earlier this year. I look forward to helping advance it so we can make sure these veterans get the care they need. Whether it is through the Veterans History Project or meetings like my sit-down with individuals and veterans’ organizations in Texarkana, I’m always seeking the input of former servicemembers, their loved ones and advocates so I know what their concerns are and can craft policies or conduct oversight to find solutions. When talking about this issue, I always like to remind people that our nation made a promise to these men and women in exchange for their service. Therefore, the services and benefits they are owed have been earned and they have every right to expect them. It’s up to all of us, Congress, the Executive Branch, state and local governments, and communities across our great nation, to stand up for our veterans and require accountability to ensure the commitments we made to them are being fulfilled. My recent visit with local veterans at VFW Post 4562 confirmed this is the case in Texarkana, and I’m proud to partner with them to keep pushing for more improvements that will best serve the men and women who so valiantly and nobly answered their country’s call to serve.


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