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Congressman Higgins Announces Approval of Honoring Our PACT … – Congressman Brian Higgins

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced the approval of the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (H.R. 3967), also known as the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2021. This legislation recognizes military toxic exposure ranging from contaminated water at military bases, airborne hazards from burn pits, and radiation as a result of atomic testing. It improves access to health care and treatments for those with toxic exposure while serving.
“Members of the military are sent into harm’s way to protect our freedom and democracy with the promise that they will be cared for by grateful nation,” said Congressman Higgins. “The Honoring Our PACT Act ensures that veterans experiencing health issues as a result of toxic exposure have access to the care and treatment they need through the VA benefits earned while serving our country.”
Every day more veterans are speaking out about exposure to environmental hazards and other toxic substances during their military service, including contaminated water at bases, airborne hazards from burn pits and other sources while deployed abroad, as well as radiation from atomic testing and clean-up. Veterans experience many health impacts as a result, such as unexplained chronic multi-symptom illnesses, cancers, infertility, and respiratory conditions.
This comprehensive legislation expands healthcare eligibility to toxic-exposed vets, streamlines the VA review process to establishing presumptions of toxic exposure, and requires VA outreach to veterans and families about the care options available for toxic exposures. More specifically, eligibility will be expanded to veterans participated in a toxic exposure risk activity while on active duty or training, including those who served on active duty beginning August 2, 1990, or September 11, 2001. Those who were deployed to support military operation in Iraq or Afghanistan also qualify. Additionally, this measure provides extension of combat eligibility for healthcare from five to 10 years following discharge, with a one-year open enrollment period for veterans who missed their initial enrollment window.
The military has used burn pits to dispose of toxic chemicals, medical waste, and other substances. Approximately 3.5 million veterans have had some burn pit or toxic exposure. This bill establishes presumption of service connection between 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers resulting from exposure.
It also includes key provisions to address Agent Orange and radiation exposures. The VA will be required expand health coverage to veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Thailand, Load, and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Additionally, it adds hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy to the list of presumptions for Agent Orange exposure. Presumptions of exposure will also be established who participated in nuclear clean-up efforts in Palomares, Spain, Thule, Greenland, and Enewetak Atoll.
The VA will streamline the review process for establishing toxic exposure presumptions by creating an advisory committee, which will include VA officials, representatives of veterans’ service organizations, and members of the private sector. Additionally, annual outreach to veterans, survivors, and caregivers related to the VA benefits and services available for toxic exposures will be required.
Other provisions in the bill include the creation of Veterans Toxic Exposure Fund, which would cover the costs of health care, research and benefits associated with service- connected toxic exposures, a PFAS Registry of veterans exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or “forever chemicals”, a Fort McClellan Registry of those exposed to hazardous materials at the facility, which closed in 1999, as well as a federal cause of action for Marines exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987.
Leaders from 11 Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) including the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), The American Legion (TAL), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), Minority Veterans of America (MVA), and Burn Pits 360, among others, support the comprehensive bipartisan package. The bill will now move the Senate for consideration.


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