PACT Act expands access to veterans’ health care and benefits
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper today celebrated Senate passage of the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, legislation that dramatically expands access to health care and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits for veterans suffering from the effects of toxic exposure during their military service.
“U.S. service members sacrifice so much for us. Every day, they put their lives on the line for our country. We owe them the high-quality health care they rightfully earned,” said Hickenlooper.
Burn pits were commonly used by the military for open-air disposal of nearly all waste, including plastic, medical supplies, and chemicals, at bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other overseas locations. The resulting smoke has been linked to a variety of cancers and terminal illnesses in service members who were exposed. For years, veterans have been denied coverage for medical conditions thought to be associated with burn pits due to a lack of research establishing a clear connection between exposure and illness.
The PACT Act would establish a presumption of service connection between a veteran’s exposure to burn pits and over 20 associated illnesses, removing the burden of proof from the veteran. In addition, the bill will extend health coverage to Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and strengthen VA research and resources for toxic exposure.
Colorado is home to over 400,000 veterans, including nearly 70,000 veterans who served in post-9/11 wars. Any veteran exposed to toxic chemicals during service would benefit under this bill. The bill also authorizes and provides funds for 31 new clinics, research facilities, and VA administration spaces, including a residential facility in Denver.
The PACT Act, which is supported by the VA, the White House, and over 40 Veteran Service Organizations, must now pass the House of Representatives before being signed into law by the President.
Specifically, the bill will:
- Expand VA health care eligibility to post-9/11 combat veterans, which includes more than 3.5 million exposed to toxics
- Create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure and establishes a fund to cover costs of health care, research, and benefits associated with service-connected exposure to environment hazards
- Add 23 burn pits and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions
- Expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure
- Strengthen federal research on toxic exposure
- Improve VA’s resources and training for toxic-exposed veterans
- Bolster the VA’s ability to respond to these claims in a timely manner by investing in claim processing, workforce, and health care facilities
Hickenlooper co-sponsors several bills supporting veterans, including the Major Richard Star Act, which ensures veterans with fewer than 20 years of service receive the full benefits they have earned upon retirement, and the VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Project Act, a bill to improve access to mental health care for veterans, particularly those residing in rural areas.
The bipartisan Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations Bill, which Hickenlooper voted for, secured $100 billion to deliver, modernize, and improve medical care for veterans. Hickenlooper also joined President Biden at the White House last week for the signing of nine bills honoring our veterans. Hickenlooper co-sponsored two of the bills, including the RECA Extension Act of 2022 which extends the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) program by two years, and the United States Army Rangers Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, which awards a Congressional Gold Medal to the U.S. Army Rangers Veterans of World War II.