House Passes Gottheimer-backed Bipartisan “Honoring Our Pact Act”
Gottheimer Votes to Expand the VA’s Benefits and Services to 3.5 Million Veterans
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Thursday, March 3, 2022, the House of Representatives passed key provisions authored by U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) to address the mental health impacts of toxic exposure for veterans and to ensure VA information on toxic exposure illnesses is published in multiple languages. Gottheimer’s provisions passed the House today as part of the bipartisan Honoring our PACT Act, helping our brave veterans.
“It’s inexcusable that more than 240,000 veterans have signed up for the VA’s burn pit registry, but 70% of claims have been denied. With this bipartisan legislation and my provisions we passed today, we’re fighting to expand access to care and benefits for our brave veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Our veterans represent the best our nation has to offer — the ones who have sacrificed everything for the freedoms we cherish today. These are not red or blue issues — they are red, white, and blue issues. They are Jersey issues, and we’re working across the aisle to get the backs of those who’ve bravely had ours.”
Gottheimer’s provisions passed by the House within the bipartisan Honoring Our Pact Act will:
- Examine and address veteran mental health impacts of toxic exposure: Gottheimer’s provision directs the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to examine the possible relationship between toxic exposures experienced during service in the Armed Forces and mental health outcomes.
- Expand toxic exposure information & materials to multiple languages — to help more of our brave veterans: Gottheimer’s provision requires outreach materials and information on illnesses that may be related to toxic exposure to be published in more than ten languages. This will ensure that veterans that primarily communicate in a language other than English are able to access care. With significant and growing Korean, Chinese American, and other communities in Northern New Jersey, we need to be sure we are serving all those who have so bravely served our country.
According to the VA, at least 3.5 million members of the armed services were exposed to burn pits in deployments during the global war on terror. Some of the open-air pits were the size of football fields and were used to incinerate everything from used medical supplies and electronics to garbage and human waste.
This bipartisan bill provides eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs medical care to veterans who: (1) participated in a toxic exposure risk activity (a qualifying activity that requires a corresponding entry in the Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record), or (2) served in specified locations on specified dates.
The bill establishes within the VA a Formal Advisory Committee on Toxic Exposure, a Science Review Board, and a Working Group to assist with the various procedures in establishing or removing presumptions of service-connection.
The bipartisan legislation passed in the House today also requires the VA to:
- Provide a veteran with a medical examination regarding the nexus between a disability and toxic exposure risk activity if a veteran submits a disability compensation claim for a service-connected disability with insufficient evidence.
- Incorporate a clinical questionnaire to help determine potential toxic exposures as part of the initial screening conducted for veterans with a VA primary care provider.
- Establish a registry for current or past members of the Armed Forces who may have been exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances due to the environmental release of aqueous film-forming foam at a Department of Defense location.
- Establish and maintain the Fort McClellan Health Registry.
The Honoring our PACT Act of 2021 will secure benefits and care for veterans exposed to toxic substances while serving overseas — covering veterans dating back to 1991 & Operation Desert Storm, through our more recent post-9/11 conflicts.
The bill will expand the VA’s benefits and services to roughly 3.5 million veterans.