Proposed Bill Would Help Veterans With Illnesses Stemming From Toxic Exposure During Service

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote next week on legislation that would make it easier for post-9/11 veterans exposed to toxic battlefield pollutants to receive health care and disability payments, reports military.com.

Called Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, or PACT, the $282 billion act would classify 23 illnesses as likely linked to military environmental exposures, allowing for veterans diagnosed with these diseases to receive Department of 150917 F Er377 054U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Trevor T. McBrideVeterans Affairs benefits.

Currently, the burden is on affected veterans to prove that their illnesses stem from their post-9/11 military service, either by demonstrating exposure or by hiring experts to support their claims. With the VA deciding these claims on an individual basis, it can be a lengthy process. For example, one Marine Corps veteran, Katie Hendricks, who was diagnosed at age 38 with state 4 breast cancer, told military.com that it took years for the VA to approve her claim. By that point, she had already spent thousands her of cancer treatment. 

"For too long, America's message to toxic-exposed service members and veterans has been simple: We thank you for your service, but the price tag for addressing your exposure is just too high," said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., according to military.com. Takano says he is confident PACT will pass the House with bipartisan support.

According to military.com, if the bill is passed, it would be the most comprehensive legislation addressing harmful environmental exposures since the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which linked Vietnam War-era defoliants to at least a dozen types of illness in veterans.