June 16, 2022

Hirono Statement on Senate Passage of Legislation to Expand VA Health Care for Hawaii Veterans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, voted to pass 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. As a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Senator Hirono helped negotiate the bipartisan bill. Upon Senate passage of the bill, Senator Hirono released the following statement:

“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 worked to craft a bill that meets our duty to these veterans, and I’m glad that we are closer than ever to seeing it signed into law,” said Senator Hirono. “This moment would not have been possible without all of the veterans and their loved ones who have shared their stories and advocated for these long-overdue changes. I thank them for their service and bravery, and I look forward to this bill being signed into law on their behalf. I’ll continue working to help make sure every veteran in Hawaii and across our country has access to high-quality care through the VA.”

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.

The bill must now be passed by the House before going to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. A previous version of the bill passed the House with bipartisan support earlier this year.

A member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Senator Hirono is committed to supporting our nation’s veterans. Last 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.