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Honoring Our PACT Act would expand Veterans Affairs health care to more than 3.5 million veterans

Legislation would also invest in new Veterans Affairs health care facilities, including in the Lehigh Valley

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) is announcing Senate passage of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, legislation to expand health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances while serving their country. The Honoring our PACT Act is the largest veterans’ health care bill in decades and would expand VA health care to more than 3.5 million veterans. The bill is named after SFC Heath Robinson, who died in 2020 because of toxic exposure during his time in military service .  

“We will never be able to fully repay our servicemembers and their families for their sacrifice, but we can, and we must, take care of them now. The Honoring Our PACT Act would help our veterans exposed to toxins in the line of duty access the benefits they rightfully earned and make it much easier for future veterans to get those benefits without facing many of the hurdles that exist now. This bill is an historic win for our veterans and our country. When President Biden signs this bill into law, it will save veterans’ lives,” said Senator Casey.

American veterans have long suffered from exposure to toxic substances, but the VA has not recognized the effects of toxic exposure on veterans or provided care to those suffering from such exposure. This legislation would add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s presumption list so that veterans can easily access health care to cover treatment of these conditions. Conditions will be phased in annually until 2025.

The Honoring Our PACT Act would also:

  • Improve the VA’s presumption process and the ability of veterans to receive care for new toxic exposures by creating a framework for the establishment of future toxic exposure-related presumptions of service connection
  • Bolster the VA’s toxic exposure resources by providing every veteran a toxic exposure screening at VA medical appointments and increasing toxic exposure-related education and training for VA health care and benefits personnel
  • Strengthen toxic exposure research by conducting studies on the mortality of veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War, Post-9/11 veterans’ health trends and veterans’ cancer rates
  • Set up the VA to successfully support the increased needs of veterans by boosting the VA’s claims processing capacity, strengthening the VA’s workforce and investing in 31 new VA health care facilities, including one $31.8 million outpatient clinic near Allentown, PA. This clinic would expand primary care, mental health, specialty care and ancillary services currently offered at the existing Allentown Satellite Outpatient Clinic, in support of the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military disposed of excess materials and waste by incinerating them in large “burn pits,” often located near bases. These burn pits contained hazardous materials and as a result, burn pits emitted toxic fumes. According to a survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 86 percent of veterans of these wars were exposed to burn pits during their time in the service. Researchers have linked burn pit exposure to dozens of medical conditions, including chronic bronchitis, constrictive bronchiolitis, asthma and lung cancer.

Senator Casey previously cosponsored the Open Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011 (S.1798), the Burn Pits Accountability Act of 2019 (S. 191) and the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act (S. 3451). In 2019, Senator Casey cosponsored the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act (S. 1195) to ensure that veterans exposed to Agent Orange while stationed on ships during the Vietnam War would receive presumptive coverage for related health effects. The Burn Pits Accountability Act was included in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to examine the health effects of servicemembers’ and veterans’ exposure to open burn pits and other toxic airborne chemicals, integrating evaluations into routine health exams. The Honoring Our PACT Act is a culmination of these previous efforts.