March 23, 2021

Chairman Takano Delivers Keynote Address at Forum on Toxic Exposure & Chronic Headache Disorders

Pledges Committee action on legislation for veterans exposed to toxic substances

Press Contact

Jenni Geurink (202-819-4684)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) delivered the keynote address at the forum entitled, “Chronic Headache Disorders and Toxic Exposure: A Policy Panel Discussion”hosted by the Headache & Migraine Policy Forum and the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy. During their annual advocacy day, Chairman Takano joined the discussion on the long term impacts veterans and 9/11 first responders face following exposure to airborne hazards and burn pits.


mt - hoh


See a video of Chairman Takano’s keynote address here and his remarks as prepared below.


First off, thank you so much for inviting me today to speak at your forum today. As we continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m grateful that I can join you virtually and thank you for your advocacy on behalf of our nation’s veterans. For me this issue is personal, I experience migraines from time to time myself and know how debilitating they can be.


That’s why I’m particularly glad to see that Dr. Jason Sico, the national clinical lead for VA’s Headache Centers of Excellence, will be on a panel later this afternoon. VA is doing great work to make sure that it is prepared to care for the unique needs of our veteran population, and I’m glad you’ll be able to hear from him.


As Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I hear from many veterans struggling with the effects of toxic exposure following their service to our country. Every day more and more veterans speak out about airborne hazards from burn pits and other sources that they were exposed to, and we’re still learning about the long-term effects. 


Right now, over 230,000 veterans have joined VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry which documents self-reported health impacts. While much is still unknown, veterans exposed to burn pits report unexplained chronic illnesses, cancers, and respiratory conditions. 


For many veterans, that means living with debilitating headaches and chronic migraines. Currently, over one million veterans seeking care at VA are diagnosed with a headache disorder and 22 percent of veterans deployed with duties involving burn pits report functional limitations due to migraines. We have a responsibility to care for all those who have borne the battle-- we cannot leave these veterans behind.


I know that ensuring equitable access to specialized healthcare for chronic headache disorders is a top priority for you. This is crucial—Congress provided funding in 2018 to establish VA Headache Centers of Excellence for specialized care and research, and I hope Dr. Sico will speak to how the COVID-19 pandemic affected VA’s capacity to use this funding. VA providers in these centers provide high quality healthcare, capitalize on the integrated, interdisciplinary team care for which VA is recognized, and understand the complexities of treating veterans--including the effects of toxic exposure


I’ve made addressing toxic exposure a top priority this Congress, and I am committed to moving forward comprehensive legislation to ensure all of our veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service can access the care and benefits they’ve earned—regardless of where or when they served.


Last Congress, I led the effort to finally pass the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. This was a momentous step to grant benefits to veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange, but it took more than 40 years to provide these veterans relief. We cannot let that happen again. 


Along with our Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs Chair Elaine Luria, our Committee is determined to find a solution so veterans exposed to toxic substances can equitably access the care they need and ultimately, create a fair process for VA to decide future presumptions. 


The burden of proof shouldn’t be on our veterans, and there’s no reason that they or their survivors should have to fight VA for the care and benefits they earned. I’ve heard from some veterans who haven’t even filed a claim because of the high denial rate, and those that worry if adding their name to the burn pit registry is worth it. It is. Veterans --please add your name and please keep telling your story. 


We need to recognize toxic exposure as a cost of war-- that’s why we’ll be focusing on it again this Congress. If America is willing to send our servicemembers into harm’s way to defend our democracy, then she must be willing to take care of all those who have borne the battle. Rest assured, I will not forget our veterans living with chronic headache disorders. 


Thank you for your advocacy and your service for our veterans.