Biden signs veterans toxic exposure bill into law
President Biden on Wednesday signed into law a bill to expand benefits for millions of veterans who were exposed to toxins during service and are suffering illnesses as a result.
The Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act also expands presumptions of service connections for a variety of conditions related to toxic exposure — meaning veterans don’t have to prove their illness was service-connected.
“This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during the military services,” Biden said in remarks from the East Room.
“You know, Secretary McDonough can tell you I was going to get this done come hell or high water,” the president continued, referring to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough.
Biden’s signature comes after a months-long legislative journey that culminated in the bill earning bipartisan support.
The upper chamber initially passed the bill in June by a vote of 84-14, and the House later passed the bill by a vote of 342-88 in July, sending it back to the Senate due to technical changes.
But in late July, the upper chamber came five votes short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill, with 25 Republicans who voted to pass the bill earlier changing their vote. The Senate later passed the measure 86-11 on Aug. 2, with all “no” votes coming from Republicans who cited concerns about the cost of the bill.
Biden was joined by McDonough, members of Congress, veterans who had been exposed to toxins and representatives of Veterans Service Organizations. He was introduced by Danielle Robinson and Brielle Robinson, the surviving wife and daughter of Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson, whom the PACT Act is named after.
Heath Robinson died of a rare form of lung cancer that was developed as a result of exposure to toxins during his deployment in Iraq and Kosovo.
“We could not have done this without you all,” Danielle Robinson said. “Ours is just one story. So many military families who had to fight this terrible emotional battle. So many veterans are still battling today, too many have succumbed to those burn pits as well.”
The PACT Act expands Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care eligibility to veterans who served in the post-9/11 era and create a framework for establishing presumptions of service connections related to toxic exposures.
The bill also expands presumptions for 23 burn pit-related illnesses, and the illnesses would be phased in over time. But Biden said that he directed the VA to make those conditions applicable upon his signature.
It also expands presumptions related to exposure to Vietnam War-era Agent Orange to veterans who served in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Guam.