Biden Signs Historic PACT Act Into Effect, Significantly Expanding Health Care for Veterans

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President Biden signs the PACT Act alongside the wife and daughter of Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson, a soldier who died from terminal lung cancer related to toxic burn pit exposure, after whom the bill is named. Screenshot via YouTube.

On Wednesday, Aug. 10, President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act, marking what many view as a major victory for American veterans. In signing the act, Biden has, among other things, made it significantly easier for post-9/11 veterans to receive health care and benefits for conditions related to toxic burn pit exposure.

The act was first introduced into legislation in June 2021, and its signing marks the end of a protracted political drama that became especially heated several weeks ago, when a group of Republican senators blocked the measure and were then seen fist-bumping on the senate floor, presumably in celebration. A number of GOP senators reversed course amid the ensuing backlash and ultimately voted in favor of the bill on Aug. 2, clearing the way for Biden to sign it into law.

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise To Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act expands health care coverage for veterans exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and is considered to be one of the most significant expansions of benefits and services for veterans in more than three decades. An estimated 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to toxic burn pits while serving in the Global War on Terror.

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The flames of a burn pit pick up with the winds as a storm approaches Combat Outpost Tangi on Aug. 31, 2009, in the Tangi Valley, Afghanistan. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade.

The flames of a burn pit pick up with the winds as a storm approaches Combat Outpost Tangi Aug. 31, 2009, in the Tangi Valley, Afghanistan. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade.

The PACT Act ensures that veterans will receive quicker access to health care screenings and services related to potential toxic exposures and will direct officials to assume that 23 specific conditions are related to burn pit exposure. This list of conditions includes 11 respiratory-related conditions and several forms of cancer. Survivors of veterans who died because of one of these conditions may now also be eligible for benefits as well.

Beyond burn pits, the PACT Act also expands on other health care provisions. For example, veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001, will now have up to a decade post-military to enroll in the VA health care system, double the former limit of five years, while Vietnam veterans will see hypertension added to the list of presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure.

For more information on the PACT Act and how it impacts your benefits, go to va.gov/pact.

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Eric Miller is a former Army Combat Medic from Parkersburg, West Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and has worked with homeless populations and veteran services throughout the state. He is an avid outdoorsman and has recently become interested in woodworking.
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