Press Release

Senator Gillibrand Visits Rochester Calkins VA Clinic To Highlight Implementation Of PACT Act And Help Veterans Exposed To Burn Pits Access New Benefits

Mar 10, 2023

It Is Estimated That 3.5 Million Individuals May Be Eligible To Claim New Health Care Benefits

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System Associate Director Shawn Defries, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, Monroe County Veterans Service Agency Director Nick Stefanovic, and Veterans Outreach Center Executive Director Laura Stradley visited the Rochester Calkins VA Clinic to highlight the implementation of the recently passed Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022. Passed in 2022, the PACT Act included Gillibrand’s signature legislation to establish a presumptive service connection to certain illnesses for service members and veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins, eliminating many obstacles they have to go through to receive crucial health care and benefits. It is estimated that roughly 3.5 million military personnel could have been exposed to burn pits and are eligible to receive benefits.

During her visit, Gillibrand and staff members helped veterans exposed to burn pits learn how they can access and apply for these new benefits.

“When the PACT Act was signed into law, it created one of the most significant benefits expansions in VA history,” said Senator Gillibrand.“Today, I’m visiting the Rochester Calkins VA Clinic to ensure our vets across Rochester have the information and assistance needed to take full advantage of these new health care and disability benefits. I fought tooth and nail to secure these benefits and now my office is here to help make the implementation process of the PACT Act as smooth as possible.”

“The PACT Act is a historic new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. We appreciate everything Senator Gillibrand and our representatives have done to ensure our Veterans – and their survivors – get the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve,” Shawn Defries, VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System Associate Director said. “We will continue to reach out to our local Veterans, through events like the ones we have coming up in Bath on March 21 and Elmira on March 23, to ensure they are able to receive these benefits.”

Thank you Senator Gillibrand for your tireless efforts to ensure passage of the PACT Act. Like the Senator, I believe no veteran should go without medical coverage for illnesses they contracted while serving our country in the military,said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.Since the passage of the PACT Act, our county Veterans Service Agency has facilitated hundreds of thousands of dollars to veterans in direct compensation payments and connected hundreds of veterans to the health care they need and deserve. Thank you also to Senator Schumer and Congressman Morelle for your strong support of the PACT Act.”

“Ensuring our veterans receive the care and benefits they earned through military service when they come home- especially when the very ACT of serving often results in lifelong and catastrophic health issues- is critically important. The PACT ACT is a tremendous step forward towards keeping that promise to ALL of our veterans. On behalf of the veteran community, we thank Senator Gillibrand for her fight in Congress to bring this bill to fruition and to bring awareness to our community. She truly has a warrior spirit and we commend her for accomplishing this mission,” said Veterans Outreach Center Executive Director Laura Stradley.

Applying for Benefits FAQ

  1. How can I submit a claim?: Eligible veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances can submit a claim at
  1. What if I was previously denied?: The PACT Act expanded eligibility for VA health care and benefits, so even if you were previously denied coverage, you may now be eligible. Submit a supplemental claim to get the health care and benefits you deserve at
  1. Who is covered under the new law?:
    1. Veterans who served in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or the UAE on or after Aug. 2, 1990
    2. Veterans who served in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, or Uzbekistanon or after Sept. 11, 2001
  1. What illnesses are covered?: A wide range of cancers and respiratory illnesses are covered, including: asthma diagnosed after service, head cancer of any type, neck cancer of any type, respiratory cancer of any type, gastrointestinal cancer of any type, reproductive cancer of any type, lymphoma cancer of any type, lymphomatic cancer of any type, kidney cancer, brain cancer, melanoma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, pancreatic cancer, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, and glioblastoma.
  1. What benefits can I expect to be covered?: Just like the Vietnam veterans who fell ill from their exposure to Agent Orange, under this law, anyone deployed to one of the 16 identified countries during the Gulf War and Global War on Terror (listed above) who falls ill with one of the listed conditions will be able to go to the VA and get a disability rating. Depending on the rating, the veteran may be eligible for disability compensation. They are also entitled to free VA health care for their illness.
  1. What if I have additional questions?:
  2. Schedule an appointment with a VA benefits specialist:
  3. Speak to a VA benefits specialist by calling: 1-800-MyVA411 (1-800-698-2411)
  4. New Yorkers who need assistance securing their health care and benefits can contact:

Senator Gillibrand first introduced her bill, 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 with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). In May 2022, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester and Ranking Member Jerry Moran announced a bipartisan deal on toxic exposure legislation, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. Gillibrand’s Presumptive Benefits bill formed the cornerstone of the presumptive care section of the final package. The final bill passed the Senate by a vote of 86-11 and was signed into law by President Biden on August 10th, 2022.