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Biden signs PACT Act into law, expands health care for veterans suffering from toxic burn pits

President Joe Biden signs a bill Aug. 31, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act, the largest health care bill for veterans in decades, into law on Wednesday.

Fully titled The Sergeant First Class Health Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or the PACT Act of 2022, the bill passed the House of Representatives in July and the Senate last week.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/South Brooklyn) voted in favor of the PACT Act in the House of Representatives.

“Today, we’re one step closer of fulfilling that sacred obligation with the bill I’m about to sign into law,” Biden said. “This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during their military services.”

Biden said the legislation is not only a national matter, but a personal matter; he’s suspected that his late son Beau’s brain cancer was linked to burn pits during his tour in Iraq.

“Veterans of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan not only face dangers in battle, they were breathing toxic smoke from burn pits,” he said. “When they came home, many of the fittest and best warriors that we sent to war were not the same. Headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son Beau was one of them.”

Mayor Eric Adams saluted Biden, Congress and the Senate for voting in favor of and for signing the PACT Act into law, saying it will help his administration ensure New York City veterans can have access to “care they earned and deserve.”

“Our veterans put their health and lives on the line to protect our freedoms. The PACT Act is the least we can do to honor and care for our nation’s bravest once they return home,” said Adams.

“This historic bipartisan achievement will finally treat toxic exposure as a cost of war by expanding access to health care and disability benefits to veterans of all generations — from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan,” said New York City Department of Veterans’ Services Commissioner James Hendon.

Hendon continued, “The Department of Veterans’ Services assists veterans with VA claims, including disability compensation for illnesses presumed to be caused from deployments. This comprehensive law could bring countless more service members and veterans into our care, and our agency stands at the ready to serve them.”


The two biggest components of the legislation are a specific policy that tells Veterans Affairs (VA) how to handle specific burn pit- and toxin-related illnesses and cancers, and it lengthens the grace period for veterans to get medical care.

For post-9/11 veterans, the bill expands the grace period from five to 10 years post-discharge. Veterans who do not fall in that window have a one-year open enrollment period to enroll in VA health care.

The new process for evaluating burn pit and toxin-related illnesses is through an independent evaluation of a veteran’s presumption of exposure and service connection for various chronic illnesses.

The bill also removes the need for some veterans and their survivors to prove a service connection if they are diagnosed with one of 23 specific conditions, reducing the need for exams that veterans diagnosed with one of the 23 conditions must complete before having access to health care and disability compensation, speeding up the process.

The 23 conditions include 11 respiratory illnesses, as well as melanoma, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, brain cancers, and reproductive cancers.

“I’m glad to see the PACT Act pass the Senate and head to the President’s desk. We owe our veterans the medical care needed to treat illnesses obtained from exposure to toxic burn pits while serving in the Middle East. I’m proud to have supported this important bill as we continue our work to save our local veterans’ hospitals,” said Malliotakis.


(c) 2022 Staten Island Advance

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