Tester Announces Montana Toxic-Exposed Veteran Receiving PACT Act Benefits as His State of the Union Guest

Tester will bring Fred Hamilton, a toxic-exposed veteran from Columbia Falls receiving long-overdue benefits from the PACT Act, to State of the Union

(U.S. Senate) – U.S Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced he will bring Fred Hamilton of Columbia Falls as his guest to Thursday’s State of the Union address. Hamilton is an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam where he was exposed to toxins during his service and is now receiving long-overdue Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits as a direct result of Senator Tester’s Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

“Montana veterans are the fabric that make our nation the very best in the world, so it’s my honor to bring Fred Hamilton, a top-notch Montana vet exposed to toxins in Vietnam and other countries, to the State of the Union address,” said Tester. “After 30 years of fighting, Fred is finally getting the VA benefits he earned in service to our country because of the PACT Act. This law is helping generations of veterans who were exposed to toxins in conflicts across the globe receive their earned health care and benefits, and I’ll keep taking my cues from Montana veterans like Fred to ensure the government is honoring its promises to them.”

“It has been a long, hard fight to access the care and benefits I was promised when I signed up to serve my country,” said Hamilton. “There’s still more work to do, but I’m grateful for Senator Tester’s persistent efforts and advocacy to get the PACT Act across the finish line which finally allowed me to access VA benefits and services. I’m still fighting for additional benefits because my service records were lost by the federal government, and I want to thank Senator Tester for listening to Montana veterans like me and taking this issue seriously by championing a new bill that will help me and other veterans whose records were lost by the government so this never happens again.”

Fred Hamilton was exposed to toxins during his military service in Vietnam and other countries. Like countless others, Hamilton’s military treatment records were lost through no fault of his own after being transmitted from DoD to VA when he retired from military service. Without military treatment records, Hamilton is unable to prove his health conditions are service-connected and has been denied benefits to which he is entitled. Hamilton fought for over thirty years to prove his service connection, but it wasn’t until the passage of the PACT Act which allowed him to access service-connected care and benefits at VA through his presumptive conditions. He is still waiting on additional benefits for other health conditions he cannot prove are service-connected without the records VA lost.

Tester is also working with Hamilton to fix this injustice with his Fred Hamilton Veterans’ Lost Records Act. This legislation would ensure veterans like Fred whose military records are lost by the U.S. government through no fault of their own can still receive their earned Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.

Tester championed the PACT Act and shepherded its passage through Congress in 2022. 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 1.4 million PACT Act-related claims, including more than 6,000 from Montana veterans and survivors. More than 795,000 veterans and survivors are receiving PACT Act-related benefits, including more than 3,400 veterans and survivors in Montana.

Veterans can apply today for health care at VA.gov/PACT and learn more about what this law means for them and their families.