Veterans exposed to burn pits, other toxic chemicals will soon get extended health care
WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - President Biden will sign a bill on Wednesday helping veterans exposed to toxic burn pits get better health care despite an arduous effort to get the bill passed through the Senate.
“It’s a big deal. We’ve been through a lot,” said Tom Porter, Executive Vice President for Government Relations at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. According to Porter, IAVA is the largest veterans service organization for post 9/11 veterans.
Porter is also a Navy veteran who served in the Middle East and Afghanistan where he had toxic exposure to burn pits. Porter said he developed asthma as a result. But like other vets, he has had a hard time getting his condition covered through Veterans Affairs.
“Almost eight in ten veterans that apply for benefits at the VA because of their illnesses have been turned down because they can’t prove that their illness came from their deployment,” Porter said.
The bill, the PACT Act, will expand medical care eligibility for more than 3.5 million vets who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic chemicals. The legislation also removes the burden of proof from veterans about how they got one of a list of illnesses.
A bipartisan group of more than 80 senators voted for the PACT Act including Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
“We need to stand up for and by our service members who sacrificed a lot for our democracy and our security,” said Baldwin.
Yet there were still 11 Republicans who voted against the bill. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), was one of them who said he does not believe the Department of Veterans Affairs can implement these benefits “in a fair and effective way.”
“It would’ve worked if they would’ve listened to us and been able to send a big portion of our veterans to community health. In other words, they could’ve gone to their own hospitals,” said Tuberville.
As for Porter, who was not only personally affected by the burn pits but has been working with veteran service organizations the past four years to address the issue, he is thrilled.
The VA said veterans can file a claim immediately after the president signs the bill. Vets can learn more at VA.gov/PACT.
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