06.16.22

Peters Helps Senate Pass Historic Bipartisan Legislation to Support Veterans Exposed to Toxic Substances

Honoring Our PACT Act Will Deliver Earned Health Care and Benefits to All Generations of Toxic-Exposed Veterans for the First Time in U.S. History

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) – a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve – today helped the Senate pass historic bipartisan legislation, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, to deliver all generations of toxic-exposed veterans the health care and benefits they earned for the first time in our nation’s history.

“When veterans are exposed to harmful substances in service to our nation, we must ensure they receive the VA benefits and medical care that they’ve earned,” said Senator Peters, a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, son of a World War II veteran, and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It’s simply unacceptable that veterans have faced years and even decades of inaction to get this necessary care. I was proud to help pass this landmark bipartisan package which will finally ensure all veterans in Michigan and across the country can obtain their long-overdue health care benefits.”

The legislative package – led by U.S. Senators John Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) – will ensure veterans exposed to toxic substances can access essential services through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – including by:

  • Expanding VA health care eligibility to post-9/11 combat veterans, which includes more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans;
  • Creating a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
  • Adding 23 health conditions related to burn pit and toxic-exposure to the VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
  • Expanding the list of locations officially recognized as being related to Agent Orange exposure from service (Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll);
  • Strengthening federal research on toxic exposure;
  • Providing additional resources to ensure VA workforce and systems can withstand increased demand;
  • Investing to improve VA claims processing, workforce, and health care facilities;
  • Bolstering development of the VA’s workforce by increasing the limits of student loan repayment programs and streamlining the hiring process; and
  • Passing the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, a bill Peters previously cosponsored, to allow servicemembers and military families to seek financial compensation for injuries or illnesses they suffered as a result of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina—an issue that has impacted some Michiganders.

The legislation is supported by major veterans’ organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Wounded Warrior Project, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“The Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of Michigan, is grateful to Senator Gary Peters for supporting the SFC Heath Robinson PACT Act of 2022,” said John Griffith, Army Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Department of Michigan. “More than 3.5 Million Veterans will have medical care and benefits related to their exposure to toxic substances while in service to our country.”

“Those who serve our nation in uniform put everything on the line to defend our freedom and values as Americans,” said Zaneta Adams, Director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. “We all have a responsibility to ensure they have the support and resources they need after leaving the service. We thank Senator Peters for his continued efforts fighting for veterans and servicemembers across our state – including by helping to pass this consequential legislation that will ensure veterans dealing with the harmful effects of toxic exposure can access the VA benefits they need.”

“As an American, and a veteran of the Air Force, I believe it is imperative that we pass legislation that will help our veterans who were exposed during their tour of duty to toxic substances that caused chronic medical conditions," said Randy Walker, Veterans Services Division Director of the Wayne County Department of Health, Human, and Veterans Services. "This bill would provide healthcare and/or financial assistance towards veterans’ medical bills to relieve hardships they are experiencing.”

“The PACT Act is an historic bipartisan achievement,” said National Commander Paul E. Dillard, The American Legion. “The American Legion thanks not only those who voted for this legislation but the thousands of Legionnaires and advocates who worked to make this happen. We look forward to President Biden signing the Honoring Our PACT Act into law.”

“Our veterans have given so much to this nation and it has been far too long to get these men and women the help they need after sacrificing their health and well-being. Downriver for Veterans would like to extend our gratitude to the legislators who forwarded this much-needed bill and those who voted in support of it,” said Ann Rudisill, Founder of Downriver for Veterans, a non-profit organization aimed at supporting veterans in Downriver Michigan communities.

“Today, the Senate voted to pass one of the most historic and monumental pieces of legislation that we helped create,” said Rosie Torres, Executive Director of BurnPits360, a non-profit organization aimed at supporting servicemembers and veterans affected by burn pit exposure. “My family has lost 13 years away from our children. We’ve missed birthdays, movie nights, school field trips, and priceless moments we will never get back. Today is not only about legislation being passed, it is about closure and honoring the living and the fallen. Today is for the past generations and future generations of our nation’s war fighters. We walked the halls of Congress for 13 years many days feeling torn down by the bureaucratic inertia and a system of delay and deny but we never gave up. Goodbye to the days of misdiagnosing environmental injuries as psychosomatic or dismissing them as ‘compensation driven care seeking.’ Today our government, our leaders have finally acknowledged these injuries and disease as a direct result of Armed conflict caused by an instrumentality of war. Today we thank the leaders that have restored our faith and our lives.”

“I work with veterans every day in Macomb County who are struggling to obtain the benefits and care they earned while defending our nation in uniform,” said retired U.S. Air Force Master sergeant Laura Rios, Chief Veteran Services Officer for the Macomb County Veteran Services. “As a victim of toxic burn pit exposure through my own years in the service, I want to thank Senator Peters for helping to pass this vital legislation that will be a saving grace to veterans across our state and country. It’s also clear that more research needs to be done on the long-term effects of the kinds of toxic exposure that many veterans are dealing with today, and this legislation will make meaningful strides to get us to where we need to be.”

“As someone who represents fellow veterans of the Vietnam War, and who personally deals with health complications as a result of Agent Orange exposure while serving – this effort is personal to me,” said Paul Palazzolo, President of the Vietnam Veterans of America Detroit Chapter. “Thank you Senator Peters for your constant support for the veterans in our state and for helping to pass this consequential and long-overdue legislation to deliver veterans the care and benefits they earned.”

“The men and women that serve our nation in uniform deserve the utmost respect and unbridled support after leaving the service,” said Mel Bauman, Vice Commander of the Kent County Veterans Council and retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. “I applaud Senator Peters for his efforts to help pass this long overdue, commonsense bill that will provide veterans with the benefits they earned through service and unimaginable sacrifice.”

“There are over 25,000 Veterans in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, many of whom have been exposed to an untold number of toxic and environmental hazards during military service. Provision of care and benefits for them and their families should be an absolute certainty - not a maybe," said Frank Lombard, Upper Peninsula Veterans Program Manager for the UP Commission for Area Progress, and U.S. Army Infantry Combat Veteran, OIF 06-07 & 08-09. "In order for Veterans to qualify for care, the government must acknowledge these toxic exposures occurred and expand the list of locations and medical conditions related to exposure. Every effort must be taken to streamline and expedite services for toxic-exposed Veterans, and the Honoring Our PACT Act is a critical step in the right direction.”

“Passing the PACT Act is critical to providing healthcare and benefits to millions of veterans, just like myself, exposed to harmful toxins, especially airborne particulates in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places we served around the world,” said Josh Galle, Associate Director & Accredited Veterans Service Officer, Marine Corps Combat Veteran OIF 05-07 & 06-08. “These toxic exposures have severely impacted our health and well-being. This bill is akin to the original agent orange act, establishing presumptive conditions from the Vietnam era. PACT will help ensure that today’s modern warriors receive the benefits and care they have earned.”

Peters is a strong advocate for Michigan’s servicemembers and veterans. Last year, Peters was inducted into the Michigan Military and Veterans Hall of Honor for his efforts to support our nation’s veterans and military. In 2017, Peters was recognized as Legislator of the Year by the Vietnam Veterans of America for authoring the bipartisan Fairness for Veterans Act, which was signed into law. The legislation requires veteran discharge review boards to give liberal consideration to petitions for honorable discharge status if the servicemember has been diagnosed with PTSD, TBI or other related conditions connected to their military service. As of the fall of 2020, more than 1,500 veterans have had their discharges upgraded since his legislation was enacted.

Last year, Peters’ bipartisan bill to strengthen transparency and communication for veterans and caregivers participating in the VA’s caregiver program was enacted into law. Also, Peters’ bipartisan legislation to expand apprenticeship opportunities for veterans and allow them to use their GI bill benefits to secure a registered apprenticeship was signed into law in 2020. Peters also fought for and helped secure a measure in the national defense bill to expand the Department of Veterans’ Affairs list of medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure to include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism.

Peters also introduced bipartisan legislation to protect veterans exposed to toxic chemicals during their service. The Burn Pits Accountability Act would require that servicemembers be assessed for exposure to open toxic burn pits as part of their routine health exams, as this exposure has been known to lead to cancer, cardiovascular toxicity, reproductive issues and neurological damage for numerous Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans. Peters additionally passed out of the Senate his bipartisan CADETS Act to expand the Student Incentive Payment Program eligibility age for financial assistance to cadets who attended one of the six State Maritime Academies and commit to a post-graduation service obligation to include any qualified student who will meet the age requirements for enlistment in the U.S. Navy Reserve at their time of graduation. In return for their commitment to serve, cadets can receive up to $32,000 in this incentive payment funding over four years to help offset the cost of tuition, uniforms, books, and living costs.

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