Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was joined by 9-11 advocate FealGood Foundation’s John Feal, Reserve Officers Association’s Jeffrey Phillips, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s Victor Bohm and Burn Pits 360’s Gina Cancelino to call on the Senate to pass the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, major legislation that will 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.
The senator and veterans advocates gathered at the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System’s Margaret Cochran Corbin VA Campus to make a major push to gain the 60 votes necessary for passage of the legislation. A key cornerstone of the PACT Act is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s bipartisan Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, which establishes a presumptive service connection for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been a strong ally for the package, pledging to give it a vote in the Senate. Sen. Gillibrand and the coalition will be making a major push to gain the 60 votes necessary for passage. The PACT Act is expected to go to the Senate floor for a vote during the week of June 6th.
“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 establish a presumptive service connection for toxic burn pits 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 Congress understands that its obligation to our veterans doesn’t end once they finish their service–put simply, these benefits are the cost of war.”
“We are in the 11th hour of an historic lifesaving piece of legislation for our nation’s heroes,” said Feal. “Finally, after years of fighting, these brave men & woman who protect us from harm’s way 24/7 can finally rest easy knowing help is soon on its way. Jon Stewart and I are humbled to be part of this amazing coalition that worked collectively because everyone had the same mindset, ‘Leave no man or woman behind.’”
“This past Memorial Weekend we recognized that Vietnam veterans did not get medical care from the VA until decades after the war. Gulf War vets were denied. Don’t let that happen to our newest Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. They need medical care now,” said Phillips. “ROA is proud to be standing with Senator Gillibrand today fighting for a better future for veterans who have given their measure. We thank those in Congress who understand the true cost of war and stand with us in support of the PACT Act – any delay puts lives at risk; these veterans need care today.”
“Sen. Gillibrand has been a partner with IAVA for years on so many important issues related to our veterans and 9-11 First Responders. She knows that both groups share one very significant tragedy, the health impacts of risking their lives in service to America and a Congress reluctant to make good on their responsibility to care for them,” said Victor Bohm, Senior Director of Digital Engagement for IAVA. “There is no excuse for turning our backs on the veterans who risked it all for us. The Senate must pass the Honoring Our PACT Act NOW!”
“I am the New York advocate for Burnpits360 Veterans Organization, a NY constituent, and the surviving spouse of Ret. USMC GySgt. Joseph Cancelino,” said Cancelino. “My husband passed away from cancer related to his exposure to burn pits, as a result my family has been denied presumption/death benefits. Today, my children and I urge Congress to acknowledge these cancers as an instrumentality of war and pass The Honor Our Pact Act.”
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.