Nunn noncommittal on bill expanding health care for veterans exposed to toxins

By: - July 6, 2022 4:48 pm

Republican congressional candidate Zach Nunn speaks at a campaign event July 6, 2022, in West Des Moines. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AR, left, also spoke. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Republican congressional candidate Zach Nunn, a U.S. Air Force commander, took no position Wednesday when asked at a campaign event about legislation pending in Congress to expand health care for military veterans exposed to toxic “burn pits” in the Middle East and to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

“I haven’t seen the bill,” Nunn, who is running for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District seat, said during a West Des Moines event aimed at showcasing veterans’ support for his campaign. The event featured U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and U.S. Army veteran who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nunn, a combat aviator who has been deployed to the Middle East three times, said he is concerned about veterans’ health care, including addressing toxic exposure during deployments.

“As a fellow member of the VFW, one of the most important things is that we take care of the long-term health of our veterans, right, Agent Orange being one of those from the Vietnam era, opened tar pits, open burn pits, open trash pits, from the folks who served in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Nunn said.

He highlighted his leadership on a workforce program for military veterans called Home Base Iowa and work to address veterans’ mental health care.

Veterans of Foreign Wars member Brad Whitmore of Des Moines, who asked about the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics or PACT Act, noted that veterans’ groups had worked for its passage. He also pointed out that Iowa Republican Reps. Randy Feenstra, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson all voted against a version of the bill approved by the House. Democrat Cindy Axne, Nunn’s opponent, supported the bill.

Cotton, who voted for the Senate version, defended Republicans who voted against it in the House. He noted that the Senate, where most legislation needs 60 votes to reach the floor, Republicans have more say over how bills are written.

“So oftentimes, what you see on not just veterans’ legislation, but other bills, is a far left-wing bill will pass the House of Representatives, almost no Republicans will vote for it,” Cotton said. “And then in the Senate, we will be able to moderate it, we’ll be able to improve it to address more of our priorities, and they’ll return back to the House. A lot of those Republicans who oppose Nancy Pelosi’s bill will support the bill that we were able to help produce in the Senate.”

The Senate bill that passed last month would expand eligibility for Veterans Administration health care to more than 3.5 million veterans exposed to burn pits since 9/11. It also expands the list of toxic-exposure-related ailments presumed to be connected to military service, ending the need for veterans with those conditions to try to prove to the VA their illnesses were linked to their deployments.

Whitmore said after the event he was satisfied with Nunn’s response. “I appreciated it, because I felt like I might have put him on the spot because he wasn’t in a position to have seen the bill. But his answer was honest and he didn’t try to snow me.”

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.

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