(U.S. Senate) — U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today released the following statement on the one-year anniversary of the signing of his landmark Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act:
“A year after finally giving toxic-exposed veterans the care and benefits they’ve earned, I’m proud to see the PACT Act making a real difference in veterans’ lives. For folks like Travis from Missoula, who deployed to Somalia and was diagnosed with Lymphoma, and Terry from Kalispell who served in Vietnam and suffers from hypertension—this law is a game-changer. Thanks to the PACT Act, these folks, their families, and hundreds of thousands of vets just like them are receiving the benefits they earned, and I’ll keep holding VA accountable to implement this law the right way.”
Tester championed this law and shepherded its passage through Congress last year. As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he fought tirelessly for years alongside veterans and Veterans Service Organizations in Montana and across the nation to deliver generations of toxic-exposed veterans and survivors their earned care and benefits under the PACT Act. Named after Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson who died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service, this law provides health care for Post-9/11 combat veterans, creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure, expands VA’s list of health conditions presumed to be caused by toxic exposures, which opens the door to additional benefits for veterans, and improves resources to support claims processing.
Since the PACT Act was signed into law a year ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has received more than 843,000 PACT Act-related claims, including nearly 4,300 from Montana. More than 133,000 veterans with PACT Act-related eligibility have also enrolled in VA health care since October 1, 2022, including more than 1,700 Montana veterans. In addition, more than 4.1 million veterans have been screened for toxic exposure-related health conditions, including more than 23,000 veterans in Montana.
The PACT Act also bolstered VA’s capacity to deliver all veterans the care and benefits they earned—establishing 31 new VA health care facilities across 19 states, and investing in key resources to bolster the recruitment and retention of VA’s workforce.
Continuing his push to ensure toxic-exposed veterans receive their earned care and benefits, Tester held roundtables in Billings and Kalispell to hear firsthand from veterans on their experiences applying for PACT Act-related health care and benefits and VA’s outreach efforts. He also led two Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee oversight hearings on the implementation of the PACT Act, including one last month where he pressed VA’s Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal and Under Secretary for Benefits Joshua Jacobs on issues Montana veterans raised at the roundtables.
Following reports of veterans receiving error messages on their submissions for PACT Act benefits before the August 9th deadline for retroactive benefits, the Chairman called on VA yesterday to guarantee all veterans who filed for PACT Act benefits have their submissions honored as on-time, to fix long wait times on VA’s phone helpline, and to better prepare for future surges in veterans’ applications for benefits and health care. VA has since announced they are extending this deadline for retroactive benefits to Monday, August 14th.
Toxic-exposed veterans and survivors can apply today for benefits and health care at VA.gov/PACT and learn more about what this law means for them and their families.