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Toxins In Burn Pit Smoke Can Have Long Term Health Effects From Cancers To Respiratory Illnesses, But Veterans Struggle To Receive Coverage & Have Claims Denied For These Conditions Linked To Burn Pit Exposure

Senator Says Honoring Our PACT Act Will Cut Red Tape So Vets Exposed To Environmental Hazards Can Get Their Health Care Benefits; Schumer Promises To Bring Bill For A Vote This Congress. Every Member Will Have to Go on the Record And Show How Much They Really Support Veterans

Schumer: Our Veterans Fought For Our Freedom, They Shouldn’t Have To Fight A Second War For The Health Care They Deserve

Standing at Veterans Memorial Park in Auburn, NY, flanked by veterans from across Central New York suffering from conditions related to toxic exposure during their service and not receiving the care they deserve and local organizations who advocate for them, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today called for the Senate to pass the Honoring Our Promise To Address Comprehensive Toxins Act (Honoring Our PACT Act), which passed the House of Representatives last month and is supported by President Biden. The legislation would extend health care eligibilities to veterans, reform how the VA studies and adopts presumptions of service condition for toxic exposures and allow toxic-exposed veterans to address the full range of health impacts by accessing full benefits and healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). As Majority Leader, Schumer said he will bring the bill for a vote this Congress and make sure every member will go on the record to show how much they really support veterans.

“Our Central New York veterans put their lives on the line to fight for our country and our freedom, and the least we can do as a country is make sure they are taken care of when they return,” said Senator Schumer. “As Majority Leader, I am here to say that we will vote on the Honoring Our PACT Act this Congress and put everyone on the record for getting our veterans treatment for cancers, respiratory diseases, and the countless other illnesses caused by exposure to burn pits and other toxins. Every breath our veterans take is a reminder of their sacrifice. Our nation told these veterans that if they put their lives and health on the line to protect our freedoms, we would take care of them. It’s long past time to keep that promise in full and give them the full benefits they’ve earned.”

Schumer explained that the Honoring Our PACT Act would 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 would 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.

“For too many years, we sent our brave servicemembers to live and work on bases where they were forced to breathe in poisonous fumes for months on end,” said Senator Gillibrand. “They stepped up to serve their country. Now it’s time for us to step up to take care of them. We must pass the Honoring Our PACT Act and eliminate needless bureaucracy to ensure that every veteran can access the lifesaving care they deserve.”

Schumer has a long history of fighting to expand healthcare coverage for veterans and fighting to deliver the treatment they deserve. In 2020, Schumer stood with Upstate New York Vietnam War veterans across the state to demand the inclusion of additional diseases to the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list. After a full court press that he launched in Upstate New York, Schumer was successfully able to secure the expansion of the list to include bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism for diseases associated with ‘Agent Orange’ exposure in the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

This bill would also expand on Schumer’s previous advocacy for Agent Orange exposure by further adding additional conditions like hypertension to the list of presumptive conditions. In addition, the bill also 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.

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

Schumer was joined by local veterans, local veterans organizations like Clear Path for Veterans and elected officials.