Families of veterans who die because of the coronavirus could be entitled to Department of Veterans Affairs survivor benefits under a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress this week.
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., introduced a bill Sinema said was inspired by stories she heard from Arizona veteran advocates about vets whose death are labeled as COVID-19 related, without accounting for the service-related disabilities that may have further complicated their virus diagnosis and contributed to their deaths.
The bill would require VA to investigate veteran COVID-19 deaths to determine if their service-connected disabilities contributed to their death from the virus, Sinema said. If the investigation finds that to be the case, the veterans' dependents could receive VA survivor benefits.
“We must help family members grieving the loss of their veterans receive their rightful benefits," Sinema said in a statement Tuesday.
“COVID-19 has tragically taken the lives of veterans in North Carolina and across the nation who had service-related disabilities that were contributing factors,” Tillis said.
The Arizona Military Order of the Purple Heart and TAPS have signed on in support of the bill.
“TAPS is thankful that Senator Sinema and Senator Tillis have introduced critical and timely legislation to ensure the Department of Veteran’s Affairs grants benefits to survivors of veterans who die of COVID-19 with an underlying, service-connected, health issue that may have contributed to their death by coronavirus,” TAPS President and Founder Bonnie Carroll said. "In unprecedented times it is important that we come together in nonpartisan ways to help our veterans, survivors and fellow citizens as we all cope with the damaging effects of this unprecedented pandemic."
Experts have told Connecting Vets that some veterans exposed to toxins during service could be at higher risk for complications from the coronavirus, including those exposed to burn pits during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or those who served in the Gulf War.