March 30, 2022

Manchin Questions VA Secretary on Legislation to Provide Healthcare For Veterans Exposed to Toxic Burn Pits

Washington, DC – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC), questioned U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough during a SVAC hearing. Senator Manchin questioned Secretary McDonough on the potential impact of the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2021 (PACT Act) on Veterans and VA operations.

“I've always said that the military and Veterans are what holds our country together. It rallies all of us, Democrats and Republicans and that's the best thing I can tell you that we do here when y'all come and tell us the concerns you have and how we can be of help. It's our duty to take care of all the brave men and women who've selflessly fought to defend our nation. Many of our Veterans in West Virginia and across America who were exposed to open air burn pits are now facing health complications without healthcare coverage and benefits. Millions have been exposed to toxic materials, and that number is only rising. Our Committee is unique in taking care of the Veterans, and it is not a partisan issue. It is simply our responsibility. So, I know that we can find a solution and we'll get this done,” Senator Manchin said. “In addition to accountability, we need to make sure through implementation measures that no Veterans are being left behind. So, do you feel that the PACT Act currently has enough standards for accountability and implementation? And if not, where could we fix any gaps?”

The bill would open VA healthcare to millions of Veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service, even if they don't have a service-connected disability, and would also designate 23 diseases as presumed to be linked to burn pits and other airborne hazards. In addition to post-9/11 Veterans, the bill would extend coverage to Vietnam Veterans suffering from hypertension, Vietnam-era Veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and Veterans exposed to radiation during nuclear waste cleanup.

A video of Senator Manchin’s questioning during the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee can be found here.