New Senate legislation would provide more than 3.5 million military veterans exposed to toxic materials with health care and other benefits.
If passed, the bill would cover every generation of veterans exposed to burn pits and other dangerous areas.
The text of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 emerged last week.
The measure came from Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Ranking Member Jerry Moran, R-Kan.
“This is a big step forward in showing all Americans the Senate’s plans to deliver toxic-exposed veterans and their families the comprehensive health care and benefits they have earned for the first time in this country’s history,” the senators said in a statement.
“While our work is far from over, together we’re committed to keeping up our end of the bargain to those who sacrificed on behalf of our freedoms by getting this bill across the finish line as soon as possible,” they added.
Tester and Moran touted bipartisan support for the package, which could impact one in five U.S. veterans.
“As leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, we have worked tirelessly with our colleagues from both sides of the aisle to ensure this legislation expands VA health care eligibility for Post-9/11 combat veterans, improves VA’s claims processing, and delivers the VA the necessary resources to take care of our veterans for every generation,” the two noted.
The VA would grow dramatically in size and scope should the bill become law.
The act would add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to the VA’s presumption list.
The list details the conditions the VA presumes come from military service, including exposure to hazardous conditions.
The cancers and respiratory illnesses the legislation covers could prove instrumental in securing health care and benefits for veterans.
The bill would also create 31 new VA health care facilities across 19 states, boosting the agency’s claim processing capacity.
The expansion would boost the VA’s workforce and make major investments in the agency’s health care facilities, costing more than $200 billion over the next decade.
The measure would guarantee every veteran would receive a toxic exposure screening at VA medical appointments.
VA benefits and health care providers would also receive education and training about toxic exposures, improving veterans’ quality of care.
The act would additionally create a framework for establishing future toxic exposure-related presumptions of service connections.
Burn pits are used extensively in war zones for eliminating waste, some of which proves toxic after extended exposure.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., vowed last week he would bring the potential law up for a full vote on the chamber’s floor in early June.
The House — which passed a slightly different PACT Act in March — would vote on the updated Senate version soon after.
President Joe Biden has expressed support for parts of the measure while pushing for rapid improvements to toxic-exposed veterans’ health care.
On Friday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough lauded the legislation.
“The PACT Act would be one of the largest substantive health and benefit expansions in VA’s history, comparable in scale and impact to the Agent Orange Act,” he said in a press release.
“It would codify many of the ongoing efforts by the department to improve its process for establishment of presumptions of service connection due to toxic exposure, reducing the burden for Veterans and increasing transparency,” McDonough added.
- By Mark Hensch