As a legislator in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, I am constantly grounded in the knowledge that so many Pennsylvanians choose to faithfully serve our nation in the Armed Forces. It is vital that our elected officials pay special attention to the needs of veterans and their families, as their selfless sacrifice has benefitted us all.
Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, many brave men and women answered the call to defend our nation. In doing so, they put themselves in danger. Many found themselves overseas in combat or on remote bases where living conditions were unsanitary and dangerous. As Americans whose freedom is secure thanks to the hardship endured by these brave soldiers, we have a responsibility to care for veterans who, in the defense of liberty, suffered physical or emotional wounds and, in many cases, continue to suffer from the lasting effects of their injuries.
Roughly 3.5 million U.S. servicemembers have been exposed to toxic inhalants from waste and garbage burn pits on military bases; such toxic exposure has led to lasting and severe health conditions. To ensure that these veterans get the health care they need and deserve, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 3967, the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2021, also known as the Honoring our PACT Act.
This legislation would provide expanded eligibility for VA medical care for veterans who participated in activities that exposed them to toxins, served in specific locations on certain dates where burn pits are known to have been used, or deployed in support of a specific contingency operation where they were likely to have been exposed to toxins. It would require the VA to provide an eligible veteran with a medical examination to address the relationship between a present disability and toxic exposure risk activity if the veteran submits a disability compensation claim for a service-connected disability with insufficient evidence.
The VA would also be required to screen incoming veterans to determine potential toxic exposure as part of its primary care provider services. Additionally, the VA would be required to establish a registry for service members and veterans who may have been exposed to airborne substances due to their service at a U.S. Department of Defense location.
The Honoring our PACT Act would ensure that military families are not left to navigate bureaucracy and subjected to years long, protracted battles to obtain critical coverage. This was the tragic outcome for our 9/11 first responders and we absolutely must not allow the same thing to happen to our veterans.
This legislation, which was passed in the U.S. House in a bipartisan fashion, has been sent to the Senate.
This is a great step in the right direction, but we need to see this cross the finish line. As a member of the state House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, I am committed to providing help and support to our veterans. This issue has become an even more important cause for me after speaking with local veterans. Those conversations led me to draft and circulate a letter to fellow state legislators from both parties, asking them to join me in urging Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey to show gratitude to our loyal veterans by supporting the Honoring our PACT Act with a “YES” vote.
Our veterans represent the pinnacle of public service in our communities, and it is the responsibility of our government to ensure that they are provided with the care they need and deserve. I believe this is something we can all come together, regardless of political affiliation, to support.
State Rep. Christina Sappey represents the 158th Legislative District in Chester County.
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