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New Toxic Exposure Healthcare Bill For Veterans Includes Major $11M Investment To Ramp Up Buffalo VA Research Programs And Open Up Critical Space In Most Modern Building Of WNY VA Medical Center, Giving Local Veterans Improved Direct Patient Care And Reducing Wait Times For Essential Medical Procedures

On Top Of Direct WNY Investment, Senator Says “Honoring Our Pact Act” Will Cut Red Tape So Vets Exposed To Environmental Hazards Get The Health Care Benefits They Desperately Deserve

Schumer: Honoring The Promise To Take Care Of Our Veterans Is More Than Just Extending Health Benefits, Now Western New York Veterans Will Get State-Of-The-Art Research Facility And Increased Surgical/ICU Capacity They Desperately Needed

Following  months of tireless advocacy, and all out push standing with veterans from across Upstate New York, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today revealed that the Senate-passed Honoring Our Promise To Address Comprehensive Toxins Act (Honoring Our PACT Act) which will finally provide health coverage for veterans who were exposed to burn pit smoke and other environmental hazards, also includes critical funding for a new $11+ million dollar Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Research Facility.

Schumer explained that the new facility will provide a state of-the-art space for the Buffalo VA research programs and crucially will then allow the VA to use the modern building it once occupied to expand support services and bolster care for the thousands of veterans across Western New York. Schumer said this will allow the existing VA hospital to increase its surgical and ICU capabilities on site, reducing wait times and enabling long overdue improvements to their medical facility. 

“Honoring the pact made to our Western New York veterans, who put their lives and health on the line to protect our freedoms, not only means giving them the full benefits they are entitled too, but also the modern state-of-the-art facilities they deserve. That is why I am proud to announce that included in this vital legislation is over $11 million in funding to establish a cutting-edge research space to bolster Buffalo’s research programs and direct care to our veterans,” said Senator Schumer. “This funding will foster groundbreaking research, create good-paying jobs, and help reduce wait times and give improved direct care to the thousands of veterans in Western New York and the surrounding areas.  I will always fight to make sure our Buffalo veterans get the care they need, whether that means bringing new health care investments to the area or fighting to preserve those that are already here.”

“Veteran Affairs Western New York Healthcare System has been serving the needs of Veterans and their families at the Buffalo, New York Medical Center since it opened in 1947,” said Michel Swartz, Healthcare System Director of the WNY VA. “Over the last 75 years, how medical treatments, technologies, and research is conducted has changed dramatically. A new VA research facility in Western New York will both help modernize our research program while simultaneously freeing up space to expand our ICU and allow for the construction of new operating suites. Including this funding in the PACT Act, helps jumpstart these improvements by at least one year.  I appreciate the foresight and support of Western New York’s veterans.”  

“I am very pleased to see this additional investment in our Buffalo VA Medical Center which will increase the research capabilities there and provide additional surgical and ICU option,” said Dr. Patrick Welch, a WNY Veterans’ Advocate.

According to the VA, this project would allocate over $11 million in the FY2023 budget to lease a new research space in Buffalo to provide state of-the-art center for the Buffalo VA research programs and support services. This is significant, Schumer explained, because the current WNY VA Medical Facility was designed in 1947 and completed in 1949. Since then, the dynamics and nature of medical research have changed dramatically and have become far more reliant on computer technology. Similarly, the space and equipment needed for surgical and intensive care units. This funding, which was originally included in the President’s Budget but was included in the PACT Act at the insistence of Senator Schumer, ensures the ability of the VA to secure a new lease for a state-of-the-art research facility nearby.

This is significant for two reasons. First, a new research facility, the location of which has yet to be identified, will be able to be built-out to modern specifications, not retrofitted to a space that is nearly 80 years old. Second, and more importantly, the research division’s new facility means they will vacate their existing footprint at the Bailey Avenue medical center, which will free up desperately needed space in the existing hospital. The increased space, Schumer added, means enhanced surgical and ICU capacity, which will improve care and diminish cumbersome wait times for WNY veterans and their families. The inclusion of this funding in the PACT Act, Schumer noted, helps speed up the opening of Buffalo and other research facilities around the country by at least one year.  

On top of these direct investments into the veterans of Western New York, Schumer explained that the Honoring Our PACT Act will expand health care access for veterans affected by exposure to harmful substances, toxins, and other environmental hazards, including from burn pits, which put service members in Iraq and Afghanistan in proximity of airborne hazards with the open-air combustion of trash and other waste like chemicals and munitions. Toxins in burn pit smoke have been shown to potentially have long-term effects on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract, and internal organs, but veterans often face a complicated disability benefit claims process at the VA to get access to the health care they need. Schumer said this legislation will open up VA health care to the tens of thousands of toxic-exposed veterans in New York, and 3.5 million veterans nationally exposed to toxic substances during their service even if they do not have a service-connected disability.

Details of the Honoring Our PACT Act can be found below:

  • 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
  • Add hypertension and Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance to the list of presumptions for Agent Orange exposure
  • Establish a presumption of service connection for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers related to burn pits/airborne hazards exposure
  • Create a presumption of exposure to radiation for veterans who participated in cleanup activities in Palomares, Spain, and Enewetak Atoll
  • Expand Agent Orange exposure to veterans who served in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia
  • Improve data collection between 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
  • Require VA to conduct outreach and provide resources to toxic exposed veterans
  • Resources VA with additional workforce and facilities investments to deliver these historic benefits to veterans across the country