In Bozeman, Tester Joins Toxic-Exposed Veterans and Survivor to Discuss Impact of his PACT Act

Senator championed landmark law that is delivering long-overdue health care and benefits to thousands of toxic-exposed veterans and survivors across Montana

(Bozeman, Mont.) — U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today spoke alongside local toxic-exposed veterans and a survivor to discuss the impact of his Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act on Montana veterans exposed to toxins and their families. Since Tester’s PACT Act was signed into law in August 2022, more than 3,400 Montana veterans and survivors are now receiving PACT Act-related benefits.

“Generation after generation, Americans have stepped up and served their country with the promise that if they came home changed by their service, this country would take care of them,” said Tester. “Unfortunately for veterans exposed to toxins, that simply hadn’t been the case—until we fought like hell alongside veterans to finally get the PACT Act signed into law. This law is helping generations of veterans who were exposed to toxins while serving our country get the health care and benefits they earned, and it’s making a real difference for them and their loved ones.”

“The PACT Act is important to me personally, for my family and myself, because it’s helped us get the benefits that we need and that we deserve. And it’s bigger than just myself. I have brothers and sisters sitting in here, all across the state, the nation, that I know this will help,” said Ryan Gummer, a Post-9/11 Marine Corps toxic-exposed veteran who deployed to Afghanistan. “We’ve got veterans out here that I’ve known for a while that tell us ‘just be tough,’ and as a Marine I get that. But you’ve got to find a mission in life, and to do that you’ve got to be healthy and the VA can help you right now. The PACT Act, Senator Tester, and all these groups of people are actually fighting for us, and we have to stand with and stand beside them. The PACT Act has allowed me to get more help, so I can see my kids graduate high school, get married, and I can pass along my legacy to them. It’s a blessing to have the PACT Act, and we need everyone to get tested because that’s part of what we’ve earned.”

“My husband, Michael, served 23 years as an Air Force pilot and was deployed in Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014. We have six kids from the ages of 13 to 24, and in June of 2022, he died 18 hours after being diagnosed with Lymphoma from a catastrophic blood event cause by cancer. Mike didn’t just have lymphoma, he had things we have been told medical science can’t identify and it is from the toxic burn pits,” said Nicole Kardoes, a survivor of a Post-9/11 toxic-exposed Air Force veteran. “Because of the PACT Act, my college kids are still in college. My son did not have to walk away to get a job to help us. He’ll graduate in May and he just got into grad school. Because of the PACT Act, I have a kiddo who needed a really small private school and she was able to transfer to a really small, tiny school in the Midwest. I want everyone to know that these benefits can be life-changing. It’s a way for our kids to still have a future that their parent died to give them, and I want to thank Senator Tester.”

“As an Agent Orange exposed veteran, I’m here to tell you that the PACT Act significantly sped up the processing of claims for veterans’ VA toxic-exposure claims benefits,” said Robert Hunter, a Vietnam Army veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange and developed Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), a rare disease directly related to Agent Orange exposure. “In May 2016, I filed my claim for no cost VA health care for a condition called MGUS related to my toxic exposure and was denied under VA law. Then in August of 2022, everything changed when the PACT Act that Senator Tester had shepherded through Congress was signed into law. Within a year, my claim was granted with an effective date to the day the PACT Act was signed into law, and I finally qualified for no cost health care back to 2016. The PACT Act provides similar benefits to veterans for many other toxic exposures, and I’m proud Senator Tester fought for the law to pass.”

“War changes a person. It changed me. The things that you’re exposed to and experience stay with you forever,” said Joe Schumacher, a Post-9/11 Army toxic-exposed veteran who deployed to Iraq. “My battle buddies and the support of this community, along with the passage of the PACT Act, gave me the courage to finally ask for help. You can’t be of service to others if you’re not caring for yourself. You’re worth it, your family is worth it, and we’re a better community with you in it.”

“One of the benefits of my job is I get to see veterans impacted and I get to hopefully help more veterans,” said Shane Bryan, the Assistant Veterans Service Center Manager at VA Montana. “The PACT Act has been instrumental for the VA. It’s been a game changer. It’s helped us complete compensation claims more rapidly. It’s providing us more opportunities to better serve our veterans and we appreciate what you’ve done. We look forward to doing more.”

Tester championed the PACT Act and shepherded its passage through Congress last year. As Chairman, 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 the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) 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 in August 2022, VA has received more than 1.3 million PACT Act-related claims, including more than 6,000 from Montana veterans and survivors. More than 692,000 veterans and survivors are receiving PACT Act-related benefits, including more than 3,400 veterans and survivors in Montana.