Jon Stewart, DAV, veterans and advocates urge Senate to ‘Act on the PACT Act’

Supporters call for passage of historic toxic exposure bill now

Washington, District of Columbia, UNITED STATES


ERLANGER, KY, April 29, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- DAV (Disabled American Veterans) alongside representatives from the nation’s leading military and veteran service organizations, and joined virtually by comedian and advocate Jon Stewart, rallied together at DAV’s National Headquarters in Erlanger, Kentucky, today to urge support for passage of the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

The event was part of a string of similar calls-to-action over the past several weeks to continue building support for passage of the Honoring our PACT Act, which would provide health care, establish presumptive diseases and create a new framework for veterans exposed to toxic materials during their service.

“We are at the precipice of a monumental event—solving the puzzle of comprehensive, toxic exposure legislation for past, current and future generations of veterans exposed to environmental hazards,” said DAV Deputy National Legislative Director Shane Liermann.

The PACT Act, which passed the House on March 3, will be voted on by the Senate likely before the end of May and President Joe Biden has indicated he would immediately sign the comprehensive bi-partisan legislation into law.

“You see to the incredible courage of the individuals that came up and spoke today, and you realize we've abandoned them to fight against the very government, through their sacrifice and heroism, they went overseas to defend and protect, “said Stewart. “We’re 9 Republican Senators away from getting this done,” said Stewart. “My message is you cannot be America first when you continue to put veterans last. Get on this. Get this done.”

Danielle Robinson, the widow of Ohio Army National Guard veteran Health Robinson, who died in 2020 due to lung cancer caused by burn pit exposure in Iraq, spoke at the event. Her late husband is the namesake of the Heath Robinson Act, which was championed by Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and later became a part of the Honoring our PACT Act.

“I'm asking you, Senators, would you want to have to fight the VA for benefits, medications, imaging, testing, hospice care, caregiver benefits all while trying to take care of your loved one in their last months, weeks, days, and hours filling out countless pages of paperwork, just to know that you're going to get denied?” said Robinson. “Please put yourself in our shoes. You want to support and thank of veteran? Vote yes on the Honoring our PACT Act. Anything less is a disgrace.”

Michael King, Regional Representative for Senator Brown, joined the event and read a letter penned by the Senator.

“In the last 20 years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has seen a 61% increase in the rate of cancers tied to toxic exposure,” King read from the letter. “This is the cost of going to war, and our country has a duty to ensure that all veterans are able to get the quality, affordable VA care they earned and they deserve.

Additionally, Marine Corps veteran Cody Esparza, a Purple Heart recipient who served two tours in Iraq and whose health has been impacted by burn pits shared his own experience.

“At Forward Operating Base Al Iskandariyah, where we lived was right next to a power plant that bordered the Euphrates River and our tents were between that and the burn pits,” said Esparza, who also had friends who battled chronic health issues. “It’s hard when you lose somebody that survived fighting over there to come home and be taken by something like that.”

Other speakers at the event included Cory Titus of the Military Officers Association of America, Kaitlynne Hetrick of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Michael Goodman of Wounded Warrior Project, Dab Clare with DAV, Tim Hauser with Burn Pits 360, Kevin Hensley with Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Jon Stewart, who has been a vocal advocate for veterans impacted by toxic exposures.

Titus, was joined by Amelia Stanley, the widow of retired Air Force Major Jason Stanley, who died in March due to a glioblastoma caused by toxic exposure. “When the Stanleys reached out to VA, they found confusion, gaps and delays,” said Titus. “Jason was granted service-connection, but delays from not having a simple process caused unnecessary struggles in his final days. He’s not alone. Nearly 80% of burn pit claims are denied by the VA. Veterans need the fast tracking that comes with presumptive illnesses in the PACT Act.”

“Our veterans are looking to Congress for bold action and leadership,” said Hetrick. “Failure to care for the thousands who suffered military toxic exposures may diminish the value of military service in the public's eyes, and by refusing to satisfy our obligations to them, we communicate to current and future service members that we do not have their backs. We must pass this legislation now.”

Marine Corps veteran Michael Goodman served in five combat deployments between 2003 and 2009, recalled his exposure to burn pits, which he and his fellow Marines referred to as “blue barrels of death.”

“We need your help,” said Goodman. “Pass the PACT Act to give us the support we need. Get this through the Senate and to the President’s hand.”

“You could taste the air in Iraq and it tasted like diesel fuel and whatever else was being burned that day,” said Clare, who helped bring the dangers of burn pit exposures to light by flagging concerning memos while deployed in 2008. “We knew it was a serious thing. It’s time we get justice for these people and act on the PACT Act.”

Tim Hauser, an Air Force veteran who served in Desert Storm was exposed to burn pits, waste materials and oil well fires.

“It took 25 years after the first claim to get my service connection approved,” said Hauser. “Almost half my life has been spent fighting VA, only to find out I am terminally ill. I will die soon. But my fight isn’t over yet. Not until all my brothers and sisters get their health care.”

“Families are watching their loved ones go through this process, helpless and afraid,” said Air Force veteran Kevin Hensley, District 6 Legislation Chairman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Michigan, who is battling toxic encephalitis caused by burn pit exposure. “Our nation has an obligation to ensure the health, welfare, dignity and health care and benefits owed to them because of illnesses caused in service.”

More than 60 military and veterans service organizations have backed the PACT Act, including DAV, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, the Military Officers Association of America and Burn Pits 360. Denis McDonough, Secretary Department of Veterans Affairs also expressed his support for the bill at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on March 29, noting it helps the department accomplish its “priority goal—getting veterans into VA care.”

“We cannot waste this opportunity to achieve justice for toxic-exposed veterans,” said Liermann. “We must end this seemingly perpetual cycle in which new generations of veterans are first made ill in the line of duty and then forced to fight for the health care and benefits they so desperately need. The Senate must vote ‘yes’ on the PACT Act.”

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About DAV:
DAV empowers veterans to lead high-quality lives with respect and dignity. It is dedicated to a single purpose: keeping our promise to America’s veterans. DAV does this by ensuring that veterans and their families can access the full range of benefits available to them; fighting for the interests of America’s injured heroes on Capitol Hill; providing employment resources to veterans and their spouses; and educating the public about the great sacrifices and needs of veterans transitioning back to civilian life. DAV, a nonprofit organization with more than 1 million members, was founded in 1920 and chartered by the U. S. Congress in 1932. Learn more at DAV.org.

 

 

 

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