KTVQ: Tester likes progress of law that helps veterans exposed to toxic materials

by David Jay

It’s been nearly one year since Congress passed the PACT Act, a law that expands Veterans Affairs health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, agent orange and other toxic substances.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on how the law is helping veterans.

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, aims to help toxic-exposed veterans with health care and benefits.

Some veterans say the V.A. is doing its best to implement the PACT Act and want to see continued oversight from Congress.

The reviews coming in are mixed, but the Senate expressed approval with what it heard from the V.A. at the hearing.

“Who knows what we put in those burn pits,” said Randy Stiles, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Montana District 3 commander. “Everything went in there.”

Stiles served in the U.S . Marine Corps and the U.S. Army and was deployed in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, when he was exposed to toxic burn pits.

Now as District 3 commander, he knows the veterans’ medical needs.

“The PACT Act is very, very very important for the veterans now, for veterans in the past and the veterans in the future,” Stiles said.

The committee, chaired by Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., heard from the V.A. about the law.

“Veterans and their survivors have filed more than 772,000 PACT related claims since August 10,” Joshua Jacobs, V.A. undersecretary for benefits, told Senators. “And thanks to the efforts of our dedicated staff, 425,000 of those claims have been completed with a nearly 79% approval rate for PACT related claims.”

One veteran said on the phone that it has been difficult just logging into the system for PACT benefits, something other veterans have told Senator Tester.

“It’s also critically important V.A. works to make its website easy to find and even easier to navigate,” Tester said. “I’ve heard over and over again from veterans who say the VA website is complicated and unnecessarily.”

And Senators heard from Undersecretary, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, about a commitment to a review of the Montana VA Health Care System, which has processed about 4,000 PACT claims from veterans in the state.

“I think this PACT Act is making a real difference in veterans,” Tester said. “I hear from them all the time.”

The Senator and the veterans say they will continue to hold the VA accountable and monitor the effectiveness of the pact act.

“I did that for the love of my country because I was a veteran,” Stiles said. “And I think the country needs to love us back for what we did.”