After a grueling legislative fight in Congress, federal employees are welcoming passage of a law providing recognition and health coverage to those harmed by decades of a dangerous standard practice: burning waste amid service members stationed abroad.
Feds cheered a new law's Aug. 10 presidential signing—and the promise it brings of far more comprehensive and fair healthcare access for millions of vets who have been exposed to toxic U.S. military "burn pits" abroad.
One-third of the civilian federal workforce has served as active-duty military. So, it’s not surprising that feds and their leading employee organizations are celebrating a big win since President Biden signed the historic new law that will help millions of vets with serious, but previously often unrecognized, service-related health problems.
Those health conditions are found among millions harmed by exposure to waste disposal pits, common in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The law recognizes 23 such diseases, now added to the Department of Veterans Affairs list of illnesses seen as stemming from burn pit exposure.
The new law is called the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics—or simply “PACT”—Act. It empowers the Department of Veterans Affairs to presumptively cover a number of illnesses, including lung damage and many others that follow from those burn pits, exposure to toxic fumes from the routine burning of dangerous materials.
“You can apply for PACT Act related benefits now, by filing a claim at VA,” a new notice on the agency’s website states. The law will also provide for 31 new medical facilities, as well as training for VA healthcare and other personnel on the pertinent conditions and procedures to process the expected wave of claims.
“As a veteran myself, this issue is personal to me,” said Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)—who attended the signing. “On behalf of the 700,000 federal and D.C. government employees we represent, a third of whom are veterans, I commend President Biden and the bipartisan group of lawmakers who voted for this legislation for fulfilling our nation’s promise to our veterans.”
“Our union celebrates the signing of the PACT Act, as the 283,000 VA employees we represent look forward to caring for the heroes who have been left without critical medical assistance for far too long,” another AFGE officer—Alma Lee, president of AFGE National VA Council, declared. “AFGE health care professionals and claims processors look forward to providing these veterans the high-quality care they deserve, and we thank President Biden and Congress for making this investment in the VA.”
The president of another major union also spoke for his members and others across the federal workforce with his remarks. “As the most comprehensive toxic exposure legislation passed to date, this package ensures the federal government fulfills its duty to care for our military veterans,” said Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE). “Millions of veterans and their families will now be able to access the incredible health care services provided by the VA, a benefit our heroes deserve for their sacrifices in protecting America.”
“[The] nation took one more step in keeping our promise to America’s veterans impacted by toxic exposures,” the nonprofit Disabled American Veterans said. “With the historic [PACT Act] of 2022 now signed into law, veterans of multiple generations will have expanded VA benefits and health care if they were exposed to toxic substances.”
“American veterans have spent decades navigating a never-ending series of obstacles to get the care they need and earned, and we are thrilled that relief is finally on the way with President Biden signing the PACT Act into law,” Jeremy Butler, CEO for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), stated. “Servicemembers who were exposed to toxic chemicals during their deployments must be cared for, and this new law ensures delivery on that care—care that IAVA has fought relentlessly to provide.”
“Veterans have made life-changing sacrifices for our nation, democracy, and our freedom—[and] the PACT Act is a necessary step to ensure we are honoring those sacrifices and taking care of our veterans in return,” IAVA added.
Simply put, the bill represents the largest expansion of VA care and benefits for those exposed to harmful substances during their military service in history.
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