Senate passes veteran toxic exposure legislation

Burn pit
Posted at 4:36 PM, Jun 17, 2022

HELENA — The Senate has passed comprehensive legislation to address the health care needs of toxic-exposed veterans.

The bill passed 84 to 14 on Thursday and will now head to the House where it must pass before heading to the President’s desk.

“The Senate took a historic step today to deliver all eras of veterans their earned support through passage of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “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.”

Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 is an amended version of the Honoring Our PACT Act which passed the House earlier this year. It aims to expand coverage for post-9/11 combat veterans exposed to burn pits, expand the list of countries for presumptive Agent Orange exposure and increase funding for the VA to research toxic exposure.

The legislation will also create a framework for the VA to address future toxic exposure without intervention from Congress.

Tester and Jerry Moran, R-Kan.,Ranking Member Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the amended house bill in May.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., was absent for the vote, having returned to Montana because of the flood crisis. However, he threw his support behind the legislation in a statement to the press.

“Montana veterans served our nation with honor, and it is our duty to ensure they have the care and services they need when they return home. The ‘Honoring Our PACT Act’ will ensure that the men and women who have suffered from toxic exposure while bravely defending our country receive the support they deserve. I look forward to seeing this bipartisan bill signed into law,” Daines said ahead of the vote.

In recent years the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recognized that nearly 3.5 million post-9/11 veterans suffered prolonged and pervasive exposure to burn pits and other toxic chemicals they could not avoid. Burn pits were how the military disposed of waste — including plastics — and have been linked to cancer, respiratory illnesses and other diseases.

According to data from the VA, approximately 66,000 Montana veterans could have been exposed to toxic substances during their service.