June 08, 2022

Hirono Delivers Floor Remarks in Support of Legislation to Expand VA Benefits for Toxic-Exposed Veterans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, delivered floor remarks in support of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to expand VA health care for veterans with health conditions related to burn pit and Agent Orange exposure. Earlier today, the Senate voted to adopt the motion to proceed to the Honoring Our PACT Act, setting it up for a vote on final passage in the coming days.

“The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 is historic, comprehensive legislation that provides the care toxic-exposed veterans deserve,” Senator Hirono said in her remarks. “This bipartisan legislation extends VA health care eligibility to millions of post-9/11 veterans, including nearly three-and-a-half million who were toxic-exposed. It also adds nearly two dozen conditions to the VA’s list of service presumptions and strengthens the VA’s ability to provide the high-quality care and benefits these veterans need in a timely manner. Altogether, this bill delivers an historic investment in caring for our nation’s veterans.”

The legislation is named for Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, who deployed to Kosovo and Iraq with the Ohio National Guard, and died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service. Specifically, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 will:

  • Expand VA health care eligibility to Post-9/11 combat veterans, which includes more than 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans;
  • Create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure;
  • Add 23 burn pit and toxic exposure-related conditions to VA’s list of service presumptions, including hypertension;
  • Expand presumptions related to Agent Orange exposure;
    • Includes Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll as locations for Agent Orange exposure;
  • Strengthen federal research on toxic exposure;
  • Improve VA’s resources and training for toxic-exposed veterans; and
  • Set VA and veterans up for success by investing in:
    • VA claims processing;
    • VA’s workforce; and
    • VA health care facilities.

A member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Senator Hirono is committed to supporting our nation’s veterans.  Earlier this week, President Biden signed into law her bill to name a new VA health clinic under construction on Oahu after the late Senator Daniel K. Akaka. In March, she helped pass in the Senate bipartisan legislation to expand access to breast cancer screening and care for veterans. Hirono also introduced the Veterans and Family Information Act which required the VA to make information more accessible for non-English language speakers, enabling veterans and their families to better understand the benefits, programs, and resources available to them. She also introduced the Every Veteran Counts Act directing the VA to establish and regularly update a database of veterans’ demographic data.

A transcript of Senator Hirono’s remarks is below and video can be found here.

Over decades of conflict, millions of American servicemembers have been exposed to burn pits and other toxic materials. These men and women risked their lives in service to our nation, and we have a duty to ensure they get care for conditions caused by these toxic exposures.

For months, my colleagues and I on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee have worked to craft a bill that meets our duty. Now, we have the responsibility to pass this legislation here in the Senate and deliver for our veterans.

This bill is named for Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson from Ohio, who served tours of duty in Kosovo and Iraq, where he was exposed to toxic burn pits. A decade after returning home, Sergeant Robinson developed a rare form of lung cancer caused by his toxic exposure. Tragically, he passed away in 2020.

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 is historic, comprehensive legislation that provides the care toxic-exposed veterans like Sergeant Robinson deserve. This bipartisan legislation extends VA health care eligibility to millions of post-9/11 veterans, including nearly three-and-a-half million who were toxic-exposed. It also adds nearly two dozen conditions to the VA’s list of service presumptions and strengthens the VA’s ability to provide the high-quality care and benefits these veterans need in a timely manner.

Altogether, this bill delivers an historic investment in caring for our nation’s veterans.

The Honoring Our PACT Act is the latest step we are taking to support our veterans in Hawaii and across this country. Just yesterday, President Biden signed legislation to name the state-of-the-art VA Clinic under construction on Oahu after the late Senator Daniel Akaka. He also signed our bill to expand access to breast cancer screening and treatment for veterans, helping ensure every VA patient can get the care they need. By passing the Honoring Our PACT Act, we can continue building on this progress and delivering for our veterans.

I’d like to thank Chairman Tester, Ranking Member Moran, and Chairman Mark Takano in the House for their leadership in this effort. And I’d like to thank all of the veterans and their loved ones who have shared their stories and advocated for so long to help us get to this moment.

This is an important and long-overdue step forward for our nation’s veterans. I urge my colleagues to pass this bill without delay.

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