On May 26, U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.), alongside other Committee members and Veterans Service Officer (VSO) advocates, Jon Stewart and John Feal, unveiled the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2021 (Honoring our PACT Act). The bill aims to address a range of issues impacting toxic-exposed veterans’ access to earned benefits and care.
Millions of our nation’s veterans are exposed to environmental hazards and other toxic substances, like burn pits, but often struggle to prove the direct service connection necessary to be eligible for VA benefits to cover the associated diseases. The result is a delay in critical medical care and other supports for former servicemembers, an increase in the workload of resource-strapped County Veteran Service Officers (CVSOs) tasked with connecting veterans to federal benefits and the potential to shift the responsibility of providing healthcare and other services to county systems.
The Honoring our PACT Act is a package of 15 bills already introduced in Congress that seeks to:
- Provide healthcare for veterans exposed to airborne hazards and burn pits;
- Streamline the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) review process;
- Establish a presumption of service connection for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers related to burn pits and airborne hazards exposure;
- Create a presumption of exposure to radiation;
- Expand Agent Orange exposure & add hypertension and MGUS to the list of presumptions;
- Require VA provide standardized training & conduct outreach; and
- Improve data collection between VA and the Department of Defense (DOD).
Counties support legislation that ensures veterans who served near burn pits receive VA health coverage and disability benefits for associated medical conditions, specifically policy that eliminates or eases the direct service connection requirement and invests in additional research.
NACo looks forward to working with Congress to pass bipartisan legislation that addresses toxic exposure among our valued former service members.