August 02, 2022

After Republicans Delayed Efforts to Get Life-Saving Care to Veterans, Duckworth Applauds Senate Passage of Bill to Expand Healthcare for Toxic-Exposed Veterans


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), combat Veteran and member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, today issued the following statement after the Senate passed the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, historic legislation that will overhaul the VA’s processes for toxic-exposed Veterans to include presumptions for several illnesses associated with burn pits and Agent Orange exposures to help deliver long-overdue VA healthcare and benefits across all generations of Veterans. Today’s action in the Senate comes after Republicans obstructed and blocked passage of the bill last week—despite having voted for the measure less than a month ago—delaying implementation of this legislation that will provide care for Veterans who need it.

“After bravely serving our nation, too many Veterans come home to discover years later that their service has left them with respiratory and neurological issues due to burn pits or other toxic exposure, making them more vulnerable to serious illnesses. It’s our duty to make sure Veterans can get the care they need when they return home with serious health conditions. While it’s shameful that Senate Republicans chose political games and blocked this legislation last week, I’m proud the Senate finally passed this important bipartisan legislation and is sending it where it belongs: President Biden’s desk for signature. I look forward to seeing this legislation signed into law to expand healthcare for Veterans and improve resources at the VA for those who served and sacrificed so much for us.”

Specifically, the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act would:

  1. Expand VA healthcare eligibility to Post-9/11 combat Veterans, which includes more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed Veterans;
  2. Create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
  3. Add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
  4. Expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure; includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll as locations for Agent Orange exposure;
  5. Strengthen federal research on toxic exposure;
  6. Improve VA’s resources and training for toxic-exposed Veterans; and
  7. Set VA and Veterans up for success by investing in VA claims processing, VA’s workforce and VA healthcare facilities.

Duckworth successfully secured a provision in last year’s NDAA that prohibits the use of burn pits unless explicitly waived by the U.S. Secretary of Defense for extraordinary reasons. In 2020, Duckworth joined her colleagues to help introduce the bipartisan Pandemic Care for Burn Pits Exposure Act would require the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ask servicemembers and Veterans who have tested positive for a virus designated by the federal government as a pandemic, including COVID-19, if they were previously exposed to burn pits, so they can properly address their medical needs and ensure they receive proper care.