On August 10, 2022, President Biden signed into law the long-awaited Honoring our PACT Act which expands healthcare benefits for veterans. Late last month, some Republicans in the Senate voted against the bill, prompting criticism and dismay in veterans, advocacy groups, and lawmakers. Following the overwhelming backlash concerning the bill’s blockage, the Senate finally passed the bill on August 2 with a vote of 86-11.
This bipartisan supported PACT Act addresses burn pits and toxic exposure for potentially 3.5 million veterans. The military operated open-air burn pits throughout Iraq and Afghanistan until 2010, exposing servicemembers to toxic air that produced long-term health effects such as various cancers and respiratory diseases. These burn pits incinerated medical waste, plastic, petroleum, ammunition, and rubber, among other materials that polluted the air. President Biden speculates toxic burn pits contributed to the death of his late son, Beau Biden, who served in the Iraq War and died of brain cancer in 2015. Additionally, the bill adds 23 other diseases associated with military service, making it easier for more veterans to file for benefits.
Furthermore, the PACT Act includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, which allows individuals to file claims against the federal government for contaminated water at the Camp Lejeune military base from 1953 to 1987. For decades, thousands of individuals stationed at the North Carolina base used chemically polluted water that caused residents to develop several chronic and deadly health disorders. North Carolina law barred many from filing claims for legal compensation after ten years, but this bill negates the statute, helping victims of Camp Lejeune file lawsuits.
After initially finding bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and the Senate, some Republicans in the Senate suddenly changed their stance on the bill in late July. GOP Sen. Pat Toomey voted against the PACT Act over concerns about discretionary spending included in the bill, but his attempt to change a budget component failed. After a lengthy back and forth between Republicans and Democrats, the Senate passed the Honoring our PACT Act last week. President Biden proudly signed the bill and deemed it “the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during their military services.