By Karen Stokes
The Senate voted Tuesday night, August 2nd, to pass a bipartisan legislation to expand health care benefits for millions of veterans exposed to toxins during their military service.
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act was adopted Tuesday by a 86-11 vote after a lengthy series of procedural moves by senators.
Named in honor of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, a decorated combat medic who died from a rare form of lung cancer, this legislation will help deliver more timely benefits and services to more than 5 million veterans.
“The PACT Act delivers access to veterans and their families to health care services and benefits related to toxic exposures for those during their military service exposed to hazardous materials or toxic substances such as those caused by burn pits and Agent Orange,” said Terri Tanielian, Special Assistant to the President for Veteran Affairs.
It had been hailed as the largest expansion of care in VA history, and was expected to cost $280 billion over a decade.
“There is a provision in this bill that’s known as the Camp Lejeune Justice Act that provides those who lived, worked or have been exposed in utero to water contaminated at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to bring a federal claim to federal court for potential harms associated with that exposure,” Tanielian said.
Tanielian explained that this bill has been on a journey for several months. The bill passed the House in early March and then went to the Senate where it was amended. The Senate added some new provisions because of those amendments it had to go back to the House for another vote and had strong bipartisan support and came back to the Senate.
That process derailed when Republicans made a late attempt to change another aspect of the bill last week and blocked it from advancing.
A group of veterans and their families had been camping out at the Capitol since that vote. They endured thunderstorms and Washington’s notorious August humidity.
“There was an opportunity to bring it back to the floor on Tuesday night, there was again strong partisan support 86 voting in favor and bringing final passage to the PACT Act,” Tanielian said.
Veterans watched the final vote from the Senate gallery Tuesday night, including comedian Jon Stewart, a vocal advocate for the bill and veterans.
“This bill is very historic and very comprehensive with the most significant expansion of benefits and services for toxic exposed veterans in more than 30 years,” said Tanielian.
“The goal is for President Biden to sign the bill as soon as possible, scheduled right now for Monday.”