Veterans healthcare

Bill to help veterans exposed to toxins passes; here’s what Louisiana senators said | State policy

Louisiana veterans’ advocates praise legislation approved by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday that will expand care for veterans who suffer from illnesses due to exposure to toxins during military service, with one attorney calling it “a huge victory “.

Louisiana has approximately 283,000 veterans. How many Louisianas were sickened by fumes from burning fireplaces, exposure to radiation and other toxins is unknown.

Officially known as the “Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act,” the PACT Act aims to extend benefits to 3.5 million veterans nationwide.

The two US senators from Louisiana joined the majority in passing the legislation that last week they joined fellow Republicans in delaying. The bill is now heading to President Joe Biden’s desk, and he is expected to sign it.

Military Veterans Advocacy, a Slidell-based nonprofit, noted that instead of requiring veterans to prove exposure caused their illness, the PACT Act makes it easier to claim for 23 illnesses and disabilities suffered. by veterans exposed to outdoor burn pits in the southwest. Asia.

The bill also covers radiation exposure received by some veterans in Eniwetok, Palomares, Spain and Uzbekistan. Additionally, it provides coverage for veterans who served during the Vietnam era in Guam, American Samoa, Johnston Island, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

“We have always insisted on the need for comprehensive legislation,” the retired US Navy commander said. John B. Wells, president of Military Veterans Advocacy. “The PACT Act is a huge win for veterans.”

The PACT law will:

  • Expanding VA Health Care Eligibility for Veterans Potentially Affected by Toxic Exposures
  • Ensure veterans can receive health screenings and services related to potential toxic exposure and expand access to VA healthcare services for veterans exposed during military service
  • Facilitate qualification for VA services by codifying a new process for assessing and determining suspected exposure and service connection for various chronic conditions when evidence of military environmental exposure and associated health risks is solid but difficult to prove on an individual basis
  • Remove the burden of proof from veterans diagnosed with 23 conditions. The list includes 11 respiratory conditions, as well as several forms of cancer, including reproductive cancers, melanoma, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, and brain cancers such as glioblastoma. Survivors of veterans who died due to one of these conditions may now also qualify for benefits.
  • Pay for new studies on the impact of toxic exposures and analyze health trends for veterans
  • Add mechanisms to expedite claims processing and increase headcount
  • Authorizing upgrades and expansions to 31 medical clinics and research facilities in 19 states, including Louisiana.

Get Louisiana policy details once a week from us. Register today.

“As a doctor, I know the importance of the PACT Act in caring for our veterans and I happily voted for final passage,” US Senator Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, said in a tweet. .

Cassidy and Sen. John Kennedy of Madisonville had voted last week against a motion to wrap up debate, a procedural maneuver that often kills bills, to consider amendments they said would clarify the wording of the measure. .

Both voted for the amendments on Tuesday, which were defeated, then joined an 86-11 majority backing the legislation which was largely unchanged from last week.

“Sen. Kennedy has always been supportive of veterans,” said Jess Andrews, spokesperson for Kennedy. “He never voted against the bill, but voted to extend the deadline for improving the bill. The senator supported amendments that would help improve the bill to ensure resources were not diverted from veterans, but Senate Democrats blocked that effort.

“While he is disappointed that this significant improvement to the bill was not possible, he remains committed to ensuring veterans get the benefits they deserve, including through the PACT Act. “

Republicans wanted changes to technical language that transferred money from one pot to another and raised the possibility that funds could be used elsewhere. Republicans took a political hit for slowing progress on the most sweeping veterans health care measure of a generation that had been backed by nearly every senator, including Cassidy and Kennedy.

Veterans camped out on the grounds of the US Capitol to protest the delay, and comedian Jon Stewart criticized Republican senators by name.

PACT Law is named after Ohio National Guard Sgt. Heath Robinson, a doctor deployed to Kosovo and Iraq, died in May 2020 after being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease and stage 4 lung cancer.

“This act will save lives and provide health care and benefits to those exposed to the poisons of war while serving our country,” said the American Legion National Commander. Paul E. Dillard said in a statement.