For those veterans who may have been exposed to toxic fumes, gases, chemicals or substances during their service, here is VA Secretary Denis R. McDonough’s Statement on the Passage of the PACT Act:
Veterans who were exposed to toxic fumes while fighting for our country are American heroes, and they deserve world-class care and benefits for their selfless service. The bipartisan PACT Act will help VA deliver for those Veterans—and their survivors—by empowering us to presumptively provide care and benefits to Vets suffering from more than 20 toxic exposure-related conditions.
To those Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors: you can apply for PACT Act benefits by filing a claim at VA.gov, and you can learn more about the PACT Act at VA.gov/PACT or by calling us at 1-800-MyVA411. VA will be communicating with you every step of the way to make sure that you and your loved ones get the benefits you’ve earned.
I couldn’t be more grateful to President Biden, who made this day possible by fighting like hell for our nation’s Veterans. Once the President signs this bill into law, VA will implement it quickly and effectively, delivering the care these Veterans need and the benefits they deserve.
After three more attempts by Republicans to throw sand in the gears, the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or the PACT Act, passed in a 86-11 vote. It now heads to President Biden.
In the hall of shame, voting against it: Crapo, Lankford, Lee, Lummis, Paul, Risch, Romney, Shelby, Tillis, Toomey and Tuberville.
As I have made perfectly clear (ad nauseam for some), I vehemently opposed the Iraq war – a war that was based on lies and deceit by our own government — but steadfastly supported the troops.
Gung-ho Republicans shamelessly, falsely and relentlessly accused those who did not go along with their costly charade as “not supporting the troops.”
In a 2011 essay on this subject, retired Air Force Lt. Col. William Astore, wrote:
“Support Our Troops,” in this veteran’s opinion, does not mean unquestioned support of our government’s decisions and its wars…Anything less than critical debate by concerned citizens about this country’s wars does a disservice to our troops. In a perfect world, they fight to defend us; we must also fight to defend them if we as concerned citizens believe they are being misused or sent on missions that are incommensurate with American ideals…
We only do our troops a disservice if in the name of “supporting” them, we issue ourselves gag orders, even if the gag is red-white-and-blue.
As a result of the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War and other conflicts and interventions, more than 7,000 American men and women have lost their lives.
In addition to the tens of thousands injured in battle, nearly 3.5 million veterans were exposed to toxic fumes from open air pits, “sometimes…as large as a football field,” that were used in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to burn waste including plastic tires, medical waste, batteries, ammunition, explosives, chemicals, human feces.
The smoke produced at such burn pits carried a number of harmful substances, including lead, mercury, benzene, hydrocarbons, dioxins and volatile organic compounds, causing tens of thousands of veterans to develop cancer, rare respiratory diseases and other illnesses – many fatal.
After returning home many of these servicemembers were denied treatment “or put through protracted self-funded legal battles in order to prove their eligibility.” Up to 80% of disability claims related to burn pits have been rejected by the Veterans Administration.
Recent legislation introduced in Congress, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 — or PACT Act – would have expanded health access to those 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to the burn pit toxins. The bill would also expand coverage for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange curing the Vietnam War.
The initially bipartisan act, named after Sergeant Robinson, who died in 2020 of lung cancer attributed to burn pit exposure, was well on its way to pass when Republican senators who so “patriotically” had supported the troops fighting their wars, suddenly pulled the rug out from under the troops when they needed their support most.
On Wednesday, “in an eleventh hour of cowardice,” many of the same 34 Senate Republicans who had passed an earlier PACT bill blocked a nearly identical bill from passing, claiming they did so because of “procedural,” “technical,” “accounting methods,” and other fallacious BS.
They did so shamefully, vindictively and small-mindedly.
Shamefully, because every one of those Republican senators had earlier pledged to “support the troops” and their health care.
Vindictively and small-mindedly because — as Reuters puts it — the “vote took place after news broke that Democrats had reached an agreement on a separate bill that would allow them to pass without Republican votes a $430 billion climate and drugs bill that contained many of President Joe Biden’s priorities.”
No one has been a stronger and more outspoken advocate for military veterans in their battle to receive better health care for their illnesses caused by the toxic burn pits than comedian Jon Stewart.
In his own words:
I’m used to the lies, I’m used to the hypocrisy, I’m used to the cowardice, I’m used to all of it, but I am not used to the cruelty… [Republicans] haven’t met a war they won’t sign up for and they haven’t met a veteran they won’t screw over…
On Monday, Democrats will bring up the PACT Act up for a procedural vote. Republicans will get one more chance to genuinely support the troops.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.