WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden will sign legislation on Wednesday to expand health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.
The bipartisan bill, known as the PACT Act, is the most significant expansion of veterans' health care and benefits in more than 30 years, a White House official said.
Military service can lead to increased health risks for our veterans, and some injuries and illnesses, like asthma, cancer, and others, can take years to manifest, the White House said in a release. This reality can make it hard for veterans to establish a direct connection between their service and disabilities resulting from military exposures, such as burn pits, a necessary step to ensure they receive the health care they deserve. The veterans who have been exposed to burn pits are expected to attend the signing ceremony along with their families, advocates and members of Congress, the official said.
Danielle Robinson and Brielle Robinson, the wife and daughter of Sgt. The official said that 1st Class Heath Robinson, named as the PACT Act, will introduce Biden at the signing event. Danielle Robinson was a guest of first lady Jill Biden during the president's first State of the Union address when he called for Congress to pass burn pits legislation.
The White House official said Biden was closely involved with lawmakers during negotiations over the measure.
The legislation increases access to medical care and disability payments for veterans who are exposed to burn pits. It requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to presume some respiratory illnesses and cancers were linked to the exposure, so veterans don't have to prove they got sick because of the burn pits in order to receive compensation for their illnesses. According to the Associated Press, more than 70% of disability claims related to burn pit exposure are denied by the VA due to lack of evidence, scientific data and information from the Department of Defense.
The legislation was passed in a 86- 11 vote last week, after Republicans blocked its passage the week before.
The Senate had already voted 84 -- 14 in June to advance the bill, but 25 Republicans voted no when the legislation came up again. The bill, backed by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was one of the Republicans holding up the bill, as he demanded a vote on his amendment to add guardrails to ensure that the massive package, costing $280 billion over 10 years, could not be spent on completely unrelated programs. The Republicans caved to pressure from more than 60 veterans groups and comedian Jon Stewart, who had railed against the GOP members for days outside the Capitol.
Eligible veterans and their families and caregivers can apply for PACT Act benefits by filing a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs, visiting the VA's website or calling 1 - 800 - MyVA 411.