Armed Forces News

Balad, Iraq - 2004: Soldiers from the 84th Combat Engineer Battalion use bulldozers and excavators to manuever trash and other items around in the burn pit at logistics support area Anaconda. Courtesy photo 28th Public Affairs Detachment.

The contentious fight on Capitol Hill over providing health care and benefits to service members who became sick because of exposure to burn-pit toxins while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is over. As soon as President Biden signs the PACT Act – the measure Congress passed Aug. 2 that would greatly expand access to care and benefits – these veterans will be eligible for treatment and possible disability compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The PACT (Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics) Act initially passed Congress in June. However, final approval was delayed late last month when a group of Senate Republicans changed their minds – and votes – over issues they had with technical corrections that were made to the legislation. The tally – 55-42 – fell short of the 60 votes necessary for passage.


The action drew angry responses from veterans’ services organizations, as well as former Daily Show host Jon Stewart – who emerged as a de facto spokesman for the cause and helped sustain attention on the issue. “I’m used to the hypocrisy […] not used to the cruelty,” Stewart told a crowd of veterans and media gathered outside the Capitol building the day the down vote took place. Many of the veterans had been camped out on the grounds for more than five days – arriving there after they learned that the measure had been jeopardized.

“This bill’s genesis came from the fact that 70 percent of veterans with illnesses related to burn pits were being denied, and as a result couldn’t access health care,” said Lawrence Montreuil, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans’ service organization. “Every day that this delay goes on, veterans are unable to receive care. This is wrong.”

The angst turned to celebration when word of its passage spread. Joe Chenelly, a former Marine who is now the National Director of AMVETS, said, “This is a huge victory and has been a colossal effort from veterans, supporters, several members of Congress, and, of course, Jon Stewart.”

The PACT Act will:

· Streamline VA’s review process.

· Enhance salary, bonus and incentive payment authorities for the VA.

· Make as many as 3.5 million veterans eligible for treatment of their conditions.


· Acknowledge that exposure to airborne hazards and burn pits is and was hazardous.

· Allow for medical examinations and opinions.

· Establish presumptions of service connection for 23 exposure-related illnesses and cancers.

· Exposure to radiation would also be reason for presumption.

· Agent Orange exposure presumption would expand, to include hypertension and MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance).

· Require VA to provide standardized training and conduct outreach.

· Require VA and the Defense Department to improve data collection and commission studies.


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