In Great Falls, Tester Joins Toxic-Exposed Veterans and Advocates to Talk Impact of his PACT Act

Senator championed landmark law, urges Montana veterans to apply for long-overdue health care and benefits  

U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today spoke alongside local toxic-exposed veterans and advocates to discuss the impact of his Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act on Montana veterans exposed to toxins and to encourage more veterans to apply for the expanded health care and benefits for which they may now be eligible. More than 4,100 Montana toxic-exposed veterans and survivors are receiving PACT Act-related benefits.

“For far too long, our government failed to deliver America’s toxic-exposed veterans the health care and benefits they earned—until we fought like hell to pass the PACT Act,” said Tester. “Veterans have been exposed to toxins for decades in conflicts across the globe, dating all the way back to the mustard gas used in the World War I, and we ought to take care of them when they return home. That’s why it’s critically important we get veterans who haven’t yet applied for PACT benefits, or were denied in the past for a toxic exposure claim, to come back and apply for the health care and benefits they may now be eligible for under this law.”

Tester also highlighted the recent health care expansion for toxic-exposed veterans that kicked in earlier this month using PACT Act authorities: “VA has also taken big steps this last month to expand health care eligibility for any veteran exposed to toxins – at home or abroad – immediately. This is exactly why we fought for the PACT Act, to expand health care access for millions of veterans, and to do it without the red tape that has turned too many folks away in the past.”

“I had a very good friend from high school, who served in Vietnam the same time as I did. He came back and Agent Orange took him out early,” said Dean Martin, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran exposed to Agent Orange who is receiving benefits under the PACT Act, which finally covered high blood pressure as a presumptive condition. “He had a family, two children, a wife, a new business, and I’m sad to say—he died bankrupt, without the comfort that his family was going to be taken care of. Now because of Senators like Jon Tester, those kinds of things don’t have to happen anymore. I have the comfort to know that if I die because of a condition that I got from serving in Vietnam, that my wife will be cared for after I am gone. I am very thankful for the job Jon Tester does.”

“The PACT Act has been absolutely monumental to the veterans in our community, in our state, and nationally,” said Candy Hering, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran now receiving PACT Act benefits for chronic respiratory conditions she developed as a result of her burn pit exposure and the Department Service Officer for The American Legion, where she helps veterans apply for PACT Act benefits. “I personally have been able to benefit from the PACT Act – and it’s been lifechanging if I’m being honest – but I’ve also helped the local veterans in our state file disability claims. I had one veteran specifically, who years ago was fighting to get benefits for conditions he believed were linked to his Agent Orange exposure and the old laws were not allowing for him to get those benefits. When the PACT Act passed and opened up that location, he had already passed away because of a service-connected condition. But because I had known his name, I was able to contact his surviving spouse and she was finally able to get justice for her husband by getting those benefits he had earned. This work is monumental and the veterans in our community are benefiting.”

Candy also highlighted another veteran suffering from chronic leukemia who served in Guam and was finally able to receive benefits for his leukemia following the passage of the PACT Act, which added Guam as a presumptive location.

“As the DAV National Commander, I was at the White House the day the PACT Act was signed into law. Since then, I have seen its undeniable impact on toxic-exposed veterans and their families,” said Joe Parsetich, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) former National Commander, U.S. Air Force veteran, and disabled veterans’ advocate. “The passage of this was not only must-needed—but greatly appreciated by all my brothers and sisters and their surviving families. The historic PACT Act will positively impact veterans and their families for decades to come.”

Beginning March 5th, all veterans who were exposed to toxins and other hazards while serving in the military at home and abroad are now eligible to enroll directly in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care without first applying for VA benefits. This recent expansion allows millions of veterans to now be eligible to enroll directly in VA health care, including all veterans who served in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Global War on Terror, or any other combat zone after 9/11. Veterans who never deployed but were exposed to toxins or hazards while training or on active duty in the U.S. are also now eligible to enroll.

Tester championed the PACT Act and shepherded its passage through Congress in 2022. As Chairman, he fought tirelessly for years alongside veterans and Veterans Service Organizations in Montana and across the nation to deliver generations of toxic-exposed veterans and survivors their earned health care and benefits under the PACT Act. Named after Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson who died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service, this law provides health care for Post-9/11 combat veterans, creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure, expands VA’s list of health conditions presumed to be caused by toxic exposures, which opens the door to additional benefits for veterans, and improves resources to support claims processing.

Since the PACT Act was signed into law in August 2022, VA has received more than 1.5 million PACT Act-related claims, including more than 6,100 from Montana veterans and survivors, and nearly 129,000 veterans have enrolled in VA health care under a PACT Act enrollment authority. More than 866,000 veterans and survivors are receiving PACT Act-related benefits, including more than 4,100 veterans and survivors in Montana.


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