Important Facts about the Toxic Exposure and American Military Act of 2020 (TEAM Act)

Military veterans have long had to deal with illnesses and injuries as a result of their military service. From soreness and rashes to the most serious illnesses, veterans have long had difficulty in getting help and benefits from the VA to help them.

Important facts about the Toxic Exposure and American Military Act of 2020 (TEAM Act)

Most recently, veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have had difficulty after toxic exposure to burn pits in those countries. They were used to burn all manner of trash, including medical and human waste, Styrofoam from food service, batteries, un-serviceable clothing, computer equipment, and jet engines. The open pits burned continuously near living quarters. Many service members breathed these toxic substances daily, leading to chronic respiratory and other illnesses, including rare cancers.

For veterans dealing with these illnesses—and the rejection that comes with it—there may be some help coming from Congress.

The TEAM Act Of 2020

The TEAM Act of 2020 Toxic Exposure in the American Military Act of 2020 was introduced on 10/2/2020 by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

The bill currently has five sponsors:

  • Representative Gus Bilirakis, R-FL
  • Representative David Roe, R-TN
  • Representative Brad Wenstrup, R-OH
  • Representative Mike Bost, R-IL
  • Representative Brian Mast, R-FL

Tillis, whose home state of North Carolina has a considerable number of military bases and veterans, said in a statement:

“After working alongside veterans who were stationed Camp Lejeune and fighting for service members exposed to toxicants from burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s clear the men and women who served our country deserve better. The bipartisan TEAM Act ensures that all veterans are given a fair and uniform process to receive the health care and benefits to which they are entitled following exposure to toxicants during their service.”


The TEAM Act would require the VA to draft and create a specialized questionnaire for primary care appointments that would help them determine if a veteran experienced service-connected toxic exposure. It would also expand training for VA employees on the issue of toxic exposures during military service.

The VA would also be required to respond to updated scientific findings related to illnesses that develop from toxic exposures in the veteran population. Additionally, the VA would also be required to establish a commission to research these effects on veterans and follow up with reports to the VA and Congress.

The VA would also be required to enter into agreements with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in order to conduct further research into toxic exposures.

The TEAM Act also requires an online portal for veterans to access their Longitudinal Exposure Record. This would help veterans understand the risks of exposure. Currently, they can only access this through a request through the Freedom of Information Act. Currently, an estimated 25% of veterans who are post-911 are eligible for or choose to use the VA for their healthcare. The bill is also intended to address that population.

Burn Pit Resources

Veterans who have found themselves exposed to toxic exposures from burn pits currently face an uphill battle. However, they are not without support.

BurnPits360 is a nonprofit advocacy group created in response to the VA’s inadequate response to veterans who face multiple illnesses due to burning pits in Afghanistan and Iraq. The crux of this group is an independent and voluntary registry of veterans who have died from toxic exposure.

Survivors of these veterans can record their names in the registry. Veterans who have suffered from denial of care can also register. The data collected from the registry is shared with medical institutions and independent researchers to investigate and track illnesses, recoveries, and deaths.

BurnPits360 also has a page for support and resources as well as tools for taking action.

Get Help From A Houston VA Disability Attorney

Whether you’re ready to start your application, need help with an appeal, or want to investigate a case review, don’t try to face the VA alone. You do have the right to legal representation whether you’re starting your application, facing a hearing, or dealing with an appeal.

Call The Herren Law Firm in Houston at 713-682-8194 (or use our online contact form) to schedule your free consultation for VA disability benefits. Our contingency fee basis means you won’t owe a fee until we win your case, and there’s no obligation.


How To Handle A VA Claim Denials In Houston, TX

You’ve filled out all the paperwork, sent all the requested information, and even did another physical exam (or two or more.) But the VA still denied your claim for benefits. Now, what do you do?

How To Handle A VA Claim Denials In Houston, TX

The first thing you must do is not give up. The second thing you must do is file an appeal.

Why They Said “No”

Start by figuring out why your claim was denied. Did they need more information? There may be any number of reasons, and the letter you receive will detail the denial.

The VA commonly denies veteran benefits claims for:

  • A lack of clear medical diagnosis for the condition or disability being claimed
  • No clear “nexus” or connection between your condition and your military service
  • No evidence (or enough) of disability symptoms

While there may not be enough evidence in your service record to justify a service connection, you will need to show that you currently have a medical diagnosis. This can be either from a VA medical provider or through a private medical provider, such as a primary care physician. Add this information to your appeal.

To be eligible for VA disability benefits, you must demonstrate that the symptoms you have today were caused or aggravated by your military service. Without this “nexus,” there is no reason to believe your condition is service-related, so it’s up to you to show that it clearly is.

Frequently, veterans discover that they have no medical evidence in their military service record to back up claims of a disabling condition. It may be more difficult to show years after your discharge, but it’s not impossible. Any medical evidence you submit must be recent enough to demonstrate your claim of disability.

You must also show that you are currently experiencing symptoms that affect your everyday activities, including your ability to work. The VA awards compensation for disabilities that impact and impair everyday life, including work and social functioning. The degree of disability determines your rating, that is, how severe your symptoms are from the disability.

Provide additional support your claim for symptoms:

  • Draft a VA Lay Statement—a personal statement that describes your current condition and why you believe it is directly service-connected.
  • Request that someone draft a “Buddy Letter” to describe your symptoms and how they impact your life. This would be someone over the age of 18 who has first-hand knowledge of your injuries, such as a family member, spouse, fellow veteran, or anyone who can corroborate your claim. This is also considered “lay evidence.”
  • Obtain a Disability Benefits Questionnaire from your primary care physician or other healthcare providers
  • Add any additional evidence from the VA as well as any private healthcare provider detailing symptoms

Time Limit For Appeal

To appeal a negative decision, you’ll need to use VA Form 21-0958, called the Notice of Disagreement (NOD). You’ll have one year from the date of the letter (not the date you received it.) If you miss this deadline, you may have to file a new claim.

It’s important to note that the NOD is simply to inform the VA that you disagree, and you intend to appeal their decision. In the NOD, you’ll include:

  • A letter with the words “notice of disagreement” at the top of Form 21-4138 or in your letter
  • The date of the denial letter and the decision of your ratings
  • The statement that you disagree with the denial letter and the entire decision of ratings
  • The statement that you intend to appeal the VA’s decision

The NOD is simply to preserve your appeal rights, and the right to appeal to all of them. Avoid detailing the specific reasons for appeal, or you may limit your ability to appeal something later. Save the specifics for the DRO (Decision Review Officer) or BVA (Board Of Veterans Appeals) meetings.

Get Help With Your VA Appeals

Appealing a VA claim denial can be frustrating and time-consuming. Without an understanding of how the VA works, you may be at a disadvantage. VSOs are not attorneys and may not be able to give you the help you need.

We’ve been helping veterans win the appeals process for more than 30 years. Call The Herren Law Firm today at 713-682-8194 (or use our online contact form) to schedule your free consultation. There’s no obligation, and we’ll take your case on a contingency fee basis, with no up-front charges. You don’t owe a fee until we win your case.

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