U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to members of the press during his first joint press conference with Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 2019. (DoD/ Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs will take the lead on improving access to medical care for military members exposed to potentially cancer-causing compounds during their service, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Wednesday.

In response to a question from McClatchy on the rising number of cancers in the military that could be connected to compounds service members were exposed to while deployed overseas or during training, Esper acknowledged the role of both the Pentagon and VA may grow.

"That is one of the areas where I want to improve and make sure we are doing everything we can to assist soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines as they transition out of the service into the VA system," Esper said.

"VA has the lead on this," he added.

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