HELENA - The PACT Act, legislation aimed to address the health care needs of toxic-exposed veterans, passed the Senate Tuesday night and is headed to the desk of President Biden. Although it passed with large bipartisan support, there was been debate about some of the content of the bill in recent weeks.
Newsy Correspondent Maritsa Georgiou spoke with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who cosponsored the PACT Act and serves as Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, about the final passage of the bill.
🧵 Just got off a call with @SenatorTester about the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act passing. He told me about the relief he felt last night, using a farming analogy to describe what happened last week. "We almost got hailed out right before harvest on this bill." #mtpol pic.twitter.com/JT4Q0PlXKZ— Maritsa Georgiou (@MaritsaGeorgiou) August 3, 2022
Tester credited much of the renewed support that led to passed to veterans and other citizens letting their senators know exactly how they felt.
“When people make their voices heard in Washington D.C. it can make a difference. And the veterans made their voices heard over the week,” said Tester.
Broken into nine sections, the first four sections of the PACT Act address health care coverage, expansion and eligibility.
VA health care eligibility is expanded and extended for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras.
More than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures were added, as were more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation.
Read the full legislation
The VA will also now be required to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA health care.
To get a VA disability rating, the disability must connect to military service.
For many health conditions, a veteran needs to prove that their service caused the condition. The new presumptive conditions guarantee coverage for veterans who suffer from them.
Sections V and VI establish research requirements and standards for health concerns related to toxic exposure through military service.
The PACT Act creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure.
This means the VA will be able to add conditions for coverage related to toxic exposure without an act of Congress, helping vets get coverage faster.
The final sections, seven through nine, address VA resources such as medical facility leases, records updates and management, VA workforce recruitment and retention, and funding for the new programs.
That funding came under scrutiny last week with Republican senators saying they were voting against the bill in a procedural vote.
Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania claimed the PACT Act will create $400 billion in unrelated spending due to funding being flagged as mandatory rather than discretionary.
Tester refuted the claim, saying mandatory funding is important in this case to provide stability for the new programs.
Discretionary funding is what Congress decides each year to spend, while mandatory is guaranteed every year and takes legislation specifically addressing the funding to change it.
“The mandatory is important because the funding is there because if you take away the funding, people are going to know it. You better have a good reason for it,” explained Tester. “And by the way, I’m not saying we shouldn’t take away funding, we should take away funding but this program should be allowed to work first and then if it has more funding than it needs and then we can adjust it back.”
President Biden is expected to sign the PACT Act into law on Monday, Aug. 8.
The VA says veterans can already begin the process of receiving new benefits covered by the PACT Act. Veterans can go to va.gov/pact or call 1-800-698-2411 for more information.