Washington DC. A bill to expand medical care for veterans exposed to toxic substances while serving in the military passed the US Senate by a vote of 84 to 14.
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Keeping Our Promise to Solve the Comprehensive Toxic Substances (PACT) Act will allow the US Department of Veterans Affairs to provide preventive care to veterans exposed to toxic fumes.
Compliance with our PACT law this is the largest veterans health care bill in decades and will expand veterans health care to more than 3.5 million veterans.
The bill is named after SFC Heath Robinson, who died in 2020 due to toxic exposure while serving in the military in Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard.
The bill was introduced by Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kahn) and John Tester (D-Mont), both of whom were pleased with the passage of the bill, which they accompanied through the process.
“Veterans suffering from toxic exposure rely on a broken system put together over decades of patchwork fixes that often leave them without medical care or benefits,” Moran said. “The Senate has taken a consistent step to correct this error.”
“For hundreds of thousands of veterans, generations of our military volunteers and their families, this bill puts us on the path to definitive recognition of the toxic wounds of war,” Tester said.
Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey also praised the passage of the bill.
“We will never be able to fully repay our service members and their families for their sacrifices, but we can and must take care of them now,” Casey said. “This bill is a historic victory for our veterans and our country.”
American veterans have suffered from exposure to toxic substances for a long time, but the VA has not recognized the effects of toxic exposure on veterans and has not provided assistance to those affected by such exposure.
This law will add 23 burns and poisoning conditions to the VA’s list of presumptions so that veterans can easily access medical care to cover treatment for these conditions. The conditions will be introduced in stages annually until 2025.
Complying with our PACT law would do the following:
- Improve the VA presumption process and veterans’ ability to receive care for new toxic exposures by providing a basis for establishing future toxic exposure-related service enrollment assumptions.
- Support VA toxic exposure resources by providing every veteran with toxic exposure screening at VA physician appointments and by expanding education and training related to toxic exposure for VA medical and benefit personnel.
- Strengthen research into toxic effects by conducting studies on the mortality of veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War, health trends in veterans since 9/11, and cancer rates among veterans.
- Set up VA to successfully support the increased needs of veterans by increasing VA claims processing capabilities, strengthening the VA workforce, and investing in 31 new VA healthcare facilities, including one $31.8 million outpatient clinic near Allentown, Pennsylvania. This clinic will expand the primary care, mental health, specialty care, and complementary services currently offered at the existing Allentown Satellite Outpatient Clinic in support of the Wilkes-Barre, Virginia Medical Center.
During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military disposed of excess materials and waste by burning them in large “burning pits” often located near bases.
These incineration pits contained hazardous materials and as a result, the incineration pits gave off toxic fumes. According to a survey conducted by the Iraqi and Afghan Veterans of America, 86 percent of veterans of these wars were exposed to fire pits while serving. Researchers link exposure to burn pits to dozens of diseases, including chronic bronchitis, constrictive bronchiolitis, asthma, and lung cancer.
The bill will now go to the US House of Representatives for a final vote. If passed, the bill will go to President Joe Biden’s desk for signing.