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Wednesday, July 6th, 2022

Senate advances PACT Act of 2022 to president, promising greater focus on toxic exposure among veterans

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A positive vote of 84-14 in the Senate passed the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 through its final legislative hurdle last week, advancing it to President Joe Biden to sign.

The legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jon Tester (D-MT) focuses on toxic exposure among veterans. Through investments in Veteran Affairs claims processing, workforce, and health care facilities, as well as improving the agency’s resources for toxic-exposed veterans and related training for its workers, it seeks support for those often left behind by the current system of health care.

“As a nation, we recognize the physical, obvious wounds of war,” Moran said. “We are improving our ability to recognize and treat the mental wounds of war, though we still have a long ways to go. No longer can we ignore the wounds of war from toxic exposures. Veterans suffering from toxic exposures have been relying on a broken system cobbled together through decades of patchwork fixes that often leaves them without health care or benefits.”

The bill would expand health care eligibility to more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans of the Post-9/11 period and expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure – a chemical made infamous for its use in the Vietnam War.

Other focuses of the legislation include the foundations of future presumptions of service connection linked to toxic exposure, the addition of 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to the VA’s list of service presumptions, and improved federal research into toxic exposure. Open-air burn pits were used from the 1990s into the post-9/11 period for the disposal of garbage, jet fuel, and more, and many of the veterans who oversaw these pits later tested positive for cancer, respiratory issues, and more. Traditionally, the VA argued there was insufficient evidence to link them.

“For hundreds of thousands of veterans, generations of our all-volunteer military and their families—this bill is putting us on a path to finally recognizing the toxic wounds of war,” Tester said. “This bill is the legislation we envisioned when we set out to right the wrongs to our toxic-exposed veterans, and I’m grateful to Ranking Member Jerry Moran, our committee colleagues, Veterans Service Organizations, veterans’ advocates, and the Biden Administration for making this possible. Our men and women in uniform held up their end of the bargain, and I’m proud we’re holding up ours.”

The bill was named for Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, who deployed to Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard. After years of service, he died in 2020 from toxic exposure from that military service.