PACT Act Signed into Law!
Author: Candace Wheeler
The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) was proud to have staff and surviving families of toxic exposure in attendance at the White House on Wednesday, August 10, 2022, to witness President Joe Biden sign the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 into law. This historic bill ensures veterans of multiple generations who were exposed to burn pits, toxins, and airborne hazards while deployed are provided immediate, lifelong access to VA health care, and their families, caregivers, and survivors receive critical benefits.
"The passage of the Honoring Our PACT Act ensures that veterans who have selflessly served in defense of freedom and the families who have stood by their side know now that America will stand with them as they fight for their lives, and stand with their families should they not survive this final battle," said Bonnie Carroll, TAPS President and Founder.
"As a Nation, it is our moral obligation to care for our veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors," said Candace Wheeler, TAPS Director of Government and Legislative Affairs and Co-Chair of the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Coalition. "With the passage of the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, we have finally kept that sacred promise!"
As the leading voice for the families of those who died as a result of illnesses connected to toxic exposure and a founding member of the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Coalition, TAPS worked tirelessly over the past nine years to bring awareness of toxic exposure and to introduce and pass comprehensive legislation.
TAPS testified before Congress and submitted written statements for the record, educated congressional members and their staff on the impacts of toxic exposure to our veterans and their survivors, worked with fellow veteran service organizations and advocates to introduce toxic exposure legislation, participated in press conferences and rallies, and helped build a strategy to secure House and Senate passage of the PACT Act.
PACT Act: A Team Effort
TAPS is grateful to Chairmen Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mark Takano (D-CA) and Ranking Members Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Mike Bost (R-IL) of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs for their leadership on the bipartisan PACT Act, which passed the U.S. Senate with an overwhelming majority vote of 86-11 on August 2, 2022, and the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 342-88 on July 13, 2022.
We thank the leadership of the House and the Senate, the Biden Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and more than 60 veteran and military organizations who joined together to advocate for this critical legislation. We are also grateful to Jon Stewart, John Feal, and veteran and survivor advocates for their tireless work to ensure passage of the PACT Act.
TAPS recognized Chairmen Tester and Takano, and Ranking Members Moran and Bost with our TAPS Honor Guard Congressional Award this past year for their leadership on comprehensive toxic exposure legislation and steadfast support of our military survivors. TAPS was also honored to present Speaker Nancy Pelosi with our prestigious TAPS Guardian Angel Award at our Annual Honor Guard Gala for her extraordinary support and personal engagement with the surviving family members of America’s fallen military heroes. This is only the third time TAPS has presented the Guardian Angel Award in its 28 years of service to families of our nation’s fallen heroes.
TAPS is also working with fellow Veteran Service Organizations to host a PACT Act Congressional Reception this fall celebrating this monumental achievement.
Survivors Impacted by Toxic Exposure
TAPS is grateful to all of the surviving military families who so courageously shared their stories to help advocate for others. Illness loss is the leading cause of military death, and each year more survivors whose loved one died due to toxic exposure illness connect with TAPS for grief support and resources. Their lessons learned and powerful testimonies effected change and enabled this legislation to come to fruition. Because of them, other families will have hope when facing a similar journey, and lives will be saved.
For survivors like Coleen Bowman and her late husband Sergeant Major Robert Bowman, early detection may have provided precious family time and produced a different outcome.
'Had we known Rob had been exposed, and to what toxins, we could have shared the information with doctors, and it wouldn’t have taken six months of misdiagnoses before we learned he had stage 4 inoperable cancer. Had we known earlier, he might still be alive today,” said Coleen. “That is why my family and I are extremely grateful for the passage of the PACT Act. Simply put, this bill will save lives."
The bill signing coincided with Agent Orange Awareness Day, the 61st anniversary of when the deadly compound was first used in Vietnam and American troops were first exposed.
"A key component of this legislation was using the lessons learned from our Vietnam veterans and their surviving families," said Claire Henline, surviving daughter of LTC William Henline IV, who died from cancer related to Agent Orange exposure. "It’s extremely meaningful to know our experiences played a role in making a difference for the current generation of veterans and their families as well as the generations to come."
"The PACT Act will provide the care our veterans and their families, and survivors deserve," said Kimberly Hughes, surviving spouse of U.S. Army Major Gary Hughes who died from stage four stomach and liver cancers after being exposed to open burn pits while stationed in Afghanistan. "Because of this important legislation, our veterans who came home sick or have died can now have some peace."
How does the PACT Act Improve Your Health Care Benefits?
The PACT Act is the largest healthcare expansion and benefits coverage in history and covers veterans from Vietnam, Gulf War, and post 9/11 eras.
- Ensures health care for 3.5 million veterans exposed to burn pits and airborne hazards
- Provides toxic exposure screening for every veteran enrolled in VA health care
- Streamlines VA’s review process, and requires medical exams and opinions
- Concedes exposure to airborne hazards and burn pits
- Establishes presumption of service connection for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers related to burn pits and airborne hazards
- Expands presumptions of Agent Orange exposure to veterans who served in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, and American Samoa
- Permanently extends eligibility for compensation based on Gulf War Illness
- Allows Camp Lejeune veterans and families exposed to toxic water to file new tort claims
- Requires VA to publish and update a list of benefits and health care resources available to toxic exposed veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors
- Invests in VA’s claims processing, workforce, and health care facilities
TAPS is Working for You
For nearly three decades, TAPS has provided hope, healing, and resources to all those grieving the death of a military loved one — of all relationships and causes of death — and has been the leading organization for those who lost a loved one to service-connected illnesses. In 2021, more than 9,200 newly bereaved military survivors came to TAPS for care. Thirty-one percent were grieving the death of a loved one to illness, surpassing all other circumstances of death, including hostile action. TAPS has been committed to promoting a better shared understanding of illnesses that may result from exposures to toxins. Our desire is to ensure eligible veterans, families, caregivers, and survivors have access to all available benefits they have earned and deserve.
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Candace Wheeler is TAPS Director of Government and Legislative Affairs.