Amendments address opioid misuse, military sexual assault, outdated electronic medical records at the VA and address perfluorinated chemical (PFC) contamination around military bases
(Washington, DC) – Today the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation to fund the United States’ national defense and security operations. The 2018 NDAA includes amendments introduced by Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) and Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porte to improve the Department of Defense (DoD) response to opioid misuse, assist transitioning service members in receiving adequate care for addiction and chronic pain, address military sexual assault, and improve the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) outdated electronic record system, address perfluorinated chemical (PFC) contamination around military bases.
“I’m pleased that today the House came together to fund important operations central to the security of our nation,” said Congresswoman Kuster. “This year’s NDAA includes several provisions I authored that will improve our response to the opioid epidemic within DoD, continue our effort to end military sexual assault, help care for our nation’s brave men and women once their service is over, and support the necessary work of improving the VA’s outdated medical record system.”
“We know that the opioid epidemic, in addition to impacting communities across the country, is posing a particular challenge to our service members and veterans,” Kuster continued. “Two of my amendments would direct the Defense Department to study the effectiveness of their opioid prescriber education policies and require Department providers to counsel or give referrals to the VA for transitioning veterans who suffer from addiction or chronic pain. We’ve seen the VA and DoD take important steps to support those suffering from substance misuse and these provisions will help bolster those efforts.”
On her amendment to address military sexual assault, Kuster said, “I’m encouraged that my Amendment to direct the Department to analyze sexual coercion in the military is part of its annual report on sexual assault. While I commend the Department for their progress in reducing the occurrence of sexual assault in the military, more work needs to be done. Understanding sexual coercion is important for the safety of our brave men and women and important for national security.”
“It’s long past time the Department of Veterans Affairs update its electronic medical records system,” Kuster said of her final amendment. “The men and women who serve our nation in uniform should not be relying on decades old computer systems that are woefully out of date and incapable of performing to the standards our veterans deserve. The American taxpayer should not continue to fund poorly implemented VA efforts to improve its health record. I’m hopeful this Amendment will lead to greater accountability of the VA’s latest endeavor to implement an improved and integrated system that will allow the VA and DoD to operate together seamlessly.”
The text of Kuster’s Amendments are available below:
- Amendment on transitioning service members
- Amendment on opioid prescribing practices
- Amendment on military sexual assault
- Amendment on electronic health records
Beginning in the 1970s, more than 600 U.S. military fire training sites used Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), a firefighting foam that contained perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). Testing conducted by the Department of Defense at many of these sites has found PFC groundwater levels that exceed EPA guidelines many times over. At Pease, it is 12.5 times higher than the health advisory. In fact, a 2016 study by researchers at Harvard University’s Chan School of Public Health and Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences found that public drinking water for six million Americans exceeds the EPA’s lifetime advisory limits for perfluorinated chemicals.
Because of the broad scope of PFOA and PFOS use by entities including the U.S military, contaminated drinking water now poses a nationwide public health threat. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), PFOA is especially problematic “because it can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time.” Numerous peer-reviewed studies indicate health dangers of perfluorinated chemicals, including links to testicular, kidney, and thyroid cancer and impaired immune system performance, decreased fertility, and harm to a developing fetus or child. However, ACS says “more research is needed to clarify these findings,” because a comprehensive, long-term study of the health impacts of PFOA and PFOS has not yet been conducted.
“Community members who live near contaminated sites like Pease deserve answers about how they and their children may be affected by perfluorinated chemicals, and guidance on what steps they can and should take to protect their health,” said Shea-Porter. “Bipartisan support for the provisions secured today reflects the national scope of PFC contamination around military bases across the country.”
The annual defense authorization bill, which Shea-Porter helped to write as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, includes:
- An Shea-Porter cosponsored amendment directing the Department of Defense to conduct a health impact study on the effects of exposure to PFCs at affected military installations, including Pease.
- Shea-Porter’s provision directing the Secretary of Defense to brief the House Armed Services Committee on:
- The locations near current and former military installations where the Department has tested drinking water system PFC levels and a summary of the results of those tests, including whether they exceeded lifetime health advisory levels;
- The Department’s short-term mitigation actions in locations where elevated PFC levels have been identified, such as Pease; and
- The process and timeline for long-term remediation actions in locations with elevated PFC levels.
- A Shea-Porter cosponsored amendment requiring a report on the Department of Defense’s progress developing and implementing alternatives to firefighting foam containing PFCs that was used at more than 600 U.S. military fire training sites, including Pease.