Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand held a press conference at VanKeuren Square 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.”
“It’s a pleasure to be here today supporting the senators initiative,” said Assemblywoman Pam Hunter. “It was her efforts that kick started my legislative work in the New York State assembly enabling us to get over the finish line last year a course of action for people exposed to toxic burn pits. We were able to unanimously pass that in the New York State Assembly, and have the governor sign it. New York stands ready with Senator Gillibrand to get this over the finish line federally.”
“Military environmental exposures are real, and impact not only the veteran, but their families. The residuals of these exposures can be life changing. Now, more than ever, it is important that we focus on removing any existing barriers to VA Healthcare and VA Benefits. This legislation is a step in the right direction,” said Anne-Marie Mancilla, Director, Onondaga County Veterans Service Agency.
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.