The long-sought comprehensive toxic exposure reform required to provide generations of veterans with the care they deserve took a significant step forward with the May 18 announcement of a bipartisan Senate agreement.
The deal comes in the form of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, an amended version of a House bill of the same name passed by that chamber in March. While specific changes to the bill were not part of the joint announcement by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the committee’s ranking member, the amended bill would:
- Make more than 3.5 million Post-9/11 combat veterans eligible for VA health care connected to burn pit exposure.
- Add nearly two dozen toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension.
- Expand Agent Orange-related presumptions, to include those who served in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll during prescribed time periods.
- Establish a framework for linking health conditions to toxic exposure in future conflicts.
- Invest in VA training, resources, facilities, and research connected to toxic exposure.
MOAA has supported legislative efforts toward comprehensive toxic exposure reform on multiple fronts and is joined by dozens of veterans advocacy groups in applauding the Senate deal, which has support in both the House of Representatives and the Biden administration.
However, to overcome any potential filibuster threat, at least 60 senators must back the measure before it can pass the chamber, return to the House for a vote as amended, and head to the president's desk. Even if you’ve already engaged with your senators on this issue, send a message today seeking their support for this major step forward.
"Comprehensive toxic exposure reform is a top priority for MOAA and requires immediate action for our veterans,” said Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), MOAA president and CEO. “We appreciate the efforts of Senators Tester and Moran, and their staffs, for working together to find a bipartisan path forward for the Honoring Our PACT Act. We urge all senators to follow their lead and support immediate passage of this bill. I ask all MOAA members to contact their senators and ask for their support on the PACT Act."
The bill honors Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson, who deployed to Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio Army National Guard and was later diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer connected to toxic exposure. Robinson died in 2020.
The amended bill has yet to be finalized, according to the joint statement. Once complete, the senators hope to secure a floor vote “as soon as possible,” per the statement, which could mean this summer. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already expressed support for bringing the bill to a floor vote.
“Today, we’re taking necessary steps to right this wrong with our proposal that’ll provide veterans and their families with the health care and benefits they have earned and deserve,” Tester and Moran said in the statement. “In addition to providing historic relief to all generations of toxic-exposed veterans, this legislation will improve claims processing to meet the immediate and future needs of every veteran it serves.”
Veterans advocacy groups including MOAA will move forward with a planned May 28 event in Washington, D.C., in support of the reform efforts, with thousands expected to rally along side group leaders, veterans advocate Jon Stewart, and others in advance of the annual Rolling to Remember motorcycle event. The rally is the latest in a string of recent public events designed to keep toxic exposure reform on Congress’ radar; you can help these much-needed efforts by sending a letter to your senators today (or calling their offices) and urging them to support the upcoming bipartisan bill.
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