Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congressman Joe Morelle (D-NY-25) held a press conference at the Monroe County Veterans Service Agency alongside County Executive Adam Bello to make a major push to gain the 60 votes necessary for passage of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022. This legislation is expected to go to the Senate floor for a vote this week and would help millions of service members and veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxins and many of whom are now suffering from rare cancers, lung diseases, and respiratory illnesses. The centerpiece of the provisions dealing with health benefits in the PACT Act is Senator Gillibrand’s bipartisan Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins (War Fighters) Act, which establishes a presumptive service connection for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins.
“No longer will our veterans be forced to suffer as Congress fails to act,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act will be voted on this week and would establish a presumptive service connection for toxic burn pit exposure and ensure veterans receive the care not that they deserve, but that they’ve earned. I’m proud that my bipartisan War Fighters bill forms the core of these provisions. It’s time for Congress to pass this bill and understand that its obligation to our veterans doesn’t end once they finish their service–put simply, these benefits are the cost of war.”
“As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I know when we send our servicemembers into harm’s way, we make a promise that we will take care of them when they come home,” said Congressman Morelle. “We need to keep that promise by ensuring all veterans exposed to toxic substances can access the essential care and benefits they’ve earned. I’m proud to have helped pass the PACT Act in the House, and I’m grateful to Senator Gillibrand for her leadership on this important issue that has helped it reach a vote in the Senate. I look forward to our continued work together to support and uplift our courageous veterans.”
“Our Rochester veterans put their lives on the line to fight for our country and our freedom, and the least we can do as a country is make sure they are taken care of when they return,” said Senator Schumer. “As Majority Leader, I will soon bring the Honoring Our PACT Act to the floor of the Senate for a vote and put everyone on the record for getting our veterans treatment for cancers, respiratory diseases, and the countless other illnesses caused by exposure to burn pits and other toxins. Every breath our veterans take is a reminder of their sacrifice. Our nation told these veterans that if they put their lives and health on the line to protect our freedoms, we would take care of them. It’s long past time to keep that promise in full and give them the full benefits they’ve earned.”
“For too long, our veterans have had to fight for the healthcare services they need for illnesses developed as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals while serving our country,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. “Our veterans deserve our support and the healthcare and support services they earned. I commend Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Schumer for shepherding the PACT Act for our veterans and their families.”
Gillibrand first introduced the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act in September 2020, alongside a bicameral group that included Representative Raul Ruiz (D-CA), comedian Jon Stewart, activist John Feal, and a strong coalition of veterans service organizations. The group introduced an updated, bipartisan version in the spring of 2021 together with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).
In March 2022, the House of Representatives passed the Honoring Our PACT Act, an effort led by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano and Gillibrand’s House co-lead, Congressman Raul Ruiz. The War Fighters bill was included in the Honoring Our PACT Act as the centerpiece of the presumptive coverage section. Also in March, Gillibrand held a hearing in her role as chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee to examine the health effects of burn pits. Later that month, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined the coalition to announce his support for the bill and pledged to give it a vote in the Senate.
In May 2022, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester and Ranking Member Jerry Moran announced a bipartisan deal on toxic exposure legislation. Their package, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, is an amended version of the House-passed Honoring Our PACT Act and retains Gillibrand’s bill as the cornerstone of the presumptive care section.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been a strong ally for the package, pledging to give it a vote in the Senate. Senator Gillibrand and the coalition will be making a major push to gain the 60 votes necessary for passage.