Weekly Columns

I’ve been honored to serve on the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees to help craft policies fulfilling the promise we made to men and women who served in our nation’s uniform by expanding access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care, benefits and services. 

We’ve achieved major enhancements this year. Just weeks ago the president signed into law measures I championed to modernize the VA’s approach to breast cancer screening and treatment as well as increased accountability within the department. I’m pleased to build off this momentum with a comprehensive and bipartisan package the Senate recently passed to support veterans living with illnesses they experience as a result of burn pits and other toxic exposures during their military service.

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 will deliver toxic-exposed veterans of all generations their earned VA health care and benefits. 

Exposure to toxic substances like burn pits is known to cause serious illness including rare cancers and respiratory ailments. Those suffering deserve to know they have not been forgotten and their voices have been heard. The legislation honors the promise our nation made to the men and women who served in these dangerous conditions. 

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act fulfills that promise and delivers immediate access to health care for toxic-exposed veterans, directs the VA to evaluate diseases for presumption of service connection, and streamlines the process for toxic-exposed veterans seeking disability compensation for their illnesses without overwhelming the VA system.

With this measure, we also continue to correct past failures at the VA to provide health care and benefits to previous generations exposed to Agent Orange.

These challenges have existed for decades and it’s time we make good on our commitment to Vietnam War-era veterans once and for all.

This legislation updates VA policies to provide veterans like Bill Rhodes of Mena, Arkansas –– a Marine who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War-era –– access to the care he deserves.

I’ve been working with Mr. Rhodes for a number of years to educate my colleagues about the restrictions that have resulted in his claim being denied.

The VA accepts that herbicides were used along the perimeters of military bases in Thailand, but does not recognize the impact of the herbicides inside the perimeter. This current policy makes no sense and is unfair, preventing veterans like Mr. Rhodes from accessing benefits as a result of toxic exposure.

Importantly, once the bill becomes law it will eliminate the bureaucratic hurdles that have stood in the way of Mr. Rhodes and other veterans getting the care they earned.

In conversations with my office following Senate passage, Mr. Rhodes says he can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel after all the work he has put in to advance this measure. He has truly been a relentless advocate for veterans living with illnesses as a result of toxic exposure. 

Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Rhodes, Veteran Service Organizations and families, the Senate passed this critical legislation and I am confident the House of Representatives will quickly take up this landmark bill and send it to the president’s desk to be signed into law to deliver the help our veterans deserve.