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June 16, 2022

Senate Passes King-Backed “Burn Pits” Bill to Support America’s Veterans

Bipartisan PACT Act will deliver critical resources and healthcare to American veterans exposed to hazardous materials in line of duty

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today applauded the Senate’s overwhelming 84-14 passage of comprehensive, bipartisan legislation that will provide veterans exposed to toxic hazards their earned healthcare and benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, will expand VA benefits eligibility to support veterans exposed to toxic hazards like burn pits and Agent Orange – meeting the present and future needs of America’s heroes. Currently, these veterans lack full access to benefits for exposure-related illnesses. Senator King came out in support of the legislation earlier this month ahead of today’s Senate vote – the bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass quickly.

“Supporting our veterans after their active service is among America’s most solemn commitments, but unfortunately, it’s one we have not always met,” said Senator King. “Thousands of America’s men and women in uniform have been exposed to toxic substances in the line of duty, contributing to lifelong health issues that our country has left them to battle alone. The PACT Act will bring us closer to meeting this moral obligation by providing the benefits, support, and healthcare these veterans deserve. Today’s overwhelmingly bipartisan passage of the bill is a testament to the importance of this effort, and of America’s enduring promise to our heroes – the House must pass it without further delay.” 

"The Honoring Our PACT Act is the top Legislative priority of The American Legion. Thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been exposed to toxic chemicals from burn pits. If the Honoring Our PACT Act does not get signed into law, sick veterans will continue to face the same VA red tape and denials that Vietnam Veterans are still fighting against from Agent Orange exposure. These heroes should not wait decades to receive the care they need and rightfully deserve,” said Maine American Legion Commander Debra Couture. “The American Legion proudly supports comprehensive action that supports our veterans suffering from toxic exposure, and the members of The American Legion Department of Maine and I appreciate Senator King’s support. If this bill arrives on the president's desk, we can honor fallen veterans by adequately caring for their sick comrades. This nation must never forget the debt owed to its heroes."

“The Department of Maine Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) strongly believe that we have heard enough talk about toxic exposure. We encourage Congress to take action by passing the Honoring Our PACT Act, as soon as possible, for President Biden to sign in to law,” said Steven Sanpedro, VFW Maine Legislative Chairman. “This comprehensive toxic exposure bill will help current and future Veterans who were exposed to toxins, both foreign and domestic, receive the care they have earned, and more importantly deserve! We applaud Senator King and his efforts to get this passed!"

Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson deployed to Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard and died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service. The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 will:

  • Expand VA health care eligibility to Post-9/11 combat veterans, which includes more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans;
  • Create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
  • Add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
  • Expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure; Includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll as locations for Agent Orange exposure;
  • Strengthen federal research on toxic exposure;
  • Improve VA’s resources and training for toxic-exposed veterans; and
  • Set VA and veterans up for success by investing in VA claims processing, VA’s workforce, and VA health care facilities.

A one-pager on the bill can be found HERE.

Representing one of the states with the highest rates of veterans per capita, Senator King has worked to provide America’s veterans with the resources and support they deserve. He has made addressing the mental health and suicide epidemic facing America’s veterans one of his top priorities, and urged the Department of Defense to provide more resources for retiring servicemembers. He recently introduced the Save Our Servicemembers (S.O.S.) Act, which would work to improve the Department of Defense’s servicemember suicide prevention efforts. Last year, the Senate unanimously passed legislation cosponsored by Senator King that will designate 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis line. Senator King has also worked to create a first-of-its-kind Senate fellowship program for wounded American veterans, and has worked to improve the services for Maine veterans across the state, including at the Togus campus in Augusta

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