A bipartisan bill sponsored by Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) has won House approval and is expected to be signed into law.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Slotkin designer to cut through red tape at the Veterans Administration (VA) and make it easier for vets affected by burn pit exposure access to specialized care.
The bill, which Slotkin led with fellow Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) was included in the Honoring our PACT Act, a comprehensive package of legislation that will address veteran toxic exposure and will to be signed into law by President Biden after clearing the U.S Senate., which is expected. The House vote was 342-88.
“This is one of the most important pieces of legislation I’ve worked on in three and a half years in congress,” Slotkin said. “Burn pits are the Agent Orange of the 9/11 generation of veterans, and this landmark bill on toxic exposure will help more than 3.5 million more American veterans access the treatment and benefits they earned during their service. As a CIA officer who lived near burn pits on three tours in Iraq, and as an Army wife, this issue has always been deeply personal for me. I believe that when we send our men and women in uniform into harm’s way, we make a solemn commitment to provide them with the care and support they need when they come home.”
Slotkin’s bill was endorsed by several veteran advocacy groups including Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA) and the Wounded Warrior Project.
“Millions of veterans will benefit from the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act, including some who have waited more than half a century for the benefits they earned and the care they require. It’s a long-overdue fix, but we are grateful to the lawmakers who’ve helped make it happen,” said Cory Titus, Director of Government Relations for Veteran Benefits and Guard/Reserve Affairs at the Military Officers Association of America. “We greatly appreciate Reps. Slotkin and Meijer’s leadership in championing the Veterans Burn Pits Exposure Recognition Act provision through the process and inclusion into the final bill. Conceding exposure is a foundational issue that will lift the burden of proof off the backs of burn pit-exposed veterans and put it back to VA where it belongs.”
Currently veterans are required by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to prove that ailments were caused by burn-pit exposure, denying many critical health care and benefits. By formally recognizing the health impacts of burn-pits, Slotkin and Meijer’s bill is set to remove the burden of proof from service members and require the VA to perform a medical exam to determine if exposure is linked to a veteran’s particular ailment.
The Honoring Our PACT Act provides new or increased disability benefits to thousands of veterans by designating 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers as likely linked to toxic exposures related to military burn pits.
The Honoring our PACT Act will:
• Provide Priority Group 6 health care for over 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans;
• Provide extension of combat eligibility for health care from 5 to 10 years with a one-year open enrollment period for those veterans who missed their window;
• Streamline VA’s review process for establishing toxic exposure presumptions;
• Concede exposure to airborne hazards/burn pits based on locations & dates of service
• Require medical exams/opinions for certain veterans with toxic exposure disability claims;
• Establish a presumption of service connection for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers related to burn pits/airborne hazards exposure;
• Expand agent orange exposure to veterans who served in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia;
• Improve data collection between the VA and the Department of Defense; Commission studies related to incidents of cancer among veterans, health trends of Post 9/11 veterans and feasibility of providing healthcare to dependents of veterans;
• Require VA to provide standardized training to improve toxic exposure disability claims adjudications and to conduct outreach and provide resources to toxic exposed veterans