Veterans Exposed to Toxic Substances Get Health Care

AFSA has always valued our members who have served this country in our armed forces. At our Triennial Convention last month, we took a major step towards formalizing our longstanding support by passing a resolution that establishes an AFSA Veterans Chapter “to bring together union leaders and union members who are veterans to speak out on and add their valued perspective to veterans’ issues and influence public policy to improve the quality of life for U.S. veterans and their families.” The resolution also stated that this new chapter “will hold government officials, candidates and elected officials accountable to the needs of military veterans and their families in educational career pursuits.”  

I am pleased to draw your attention to a new law, just passed by Congress and about to be enacted by President Biden, that will extend health care and benefits to veterans exposed to toxic substances including through so-called burn pits. The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act, named for a soldier who died in 2020 as a result of toxic exposure during his military service, will ensure that any veteran who served after September 11, 2001 and similarly exposed will: 

  • Be eligible for Veterans Administration (VA) hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care for combat veterans; and
  • Receive from the VA a screening to help determine potential exposures to toxic substances during military service.

Additionally, the bill requires the VA to:

  • provide annual training to health care and benefits personnel with respect to veterans who were exposed to toxic substances;
  • analyze total and respiratory disease mortality in veterans who served in specified locations on specified dates;
  • conduct an epidemiological study on the health trends of veterans who served in the Armed Forces after September 11, 2001;
  • conduct a study to determine trends in the rates of the incidence of cancer in veterans;
  • publish a list of VA resources for veterans who were exposed to toxic substances, families and caregivers of such veterans, and survivors of such veterans who are receiving death benefits; and
  • report on the data quality of the Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record and its usefulness in supporting veterans in receiving VA health care and benefits. 

AFSA congratulates Congress and President Biden for the passage and enactment of this important veterans’health care measure. We pledge to our members and veterans that we will work closely with our new AFSA Veterans Chapter to shine a spotlight on veterans’ issues and needs and hold our government accountable for addressing them.