In Missoula, Tester Talks Impact of his PACT Act with Montana Toxic-Exposed Veterans and Advocates

Senator’s landmark law has delivered long-overdue health care and benefits to thousands of toxic-exposed veterans and survivors across Montana

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 their survivors. Since the PACT Act was signed into law in August 2022, more than 3,500 Montana veterans and survivors are now receiving PACT Act-related benefits.

“Veterans have been exposed to toxins in every military conflict going back to World War II, and the PACT Act finally delivers all eras of these veterans the long-overdue care and benefits they earned,” said Tester. “This law recognizes the cost of war, and it’s making a real difference in the lives of Montana veterans and their loves ones. For the folks standing next to me, it has been a game-changer, and for the surviving family members of many toxic-exposed veterans no longer with us, it’s been a life raft.”

Tester continued, “These folks are exactly why we fought to pass the PACT Act. It’s why veterans slept outside on the Capitol steps in the sweltering August heat until we got it done. And it’s why VA has to implement this law as we intended and as veterans deserve.”

“If it wasn’t for the PACT Act, I would’ve lost my house, I wouldn’t have money for my kids’ food or my medicine for PTSD,” said Marcus Raggio, U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Gulf War toxic-exposed veteran. “I’ve been fighting for over five years. When I heard that I got accepted for PACT Act benefits I started crying because my prayers were answered. My family is going to make it because of the PACT Act.”

“I was stationed in Guam on a submarine, and Guam was a storage facility for Agent Orange,” said James Booth, U.S. Navy Vietnam War-era and Gulf War toxic-exposed veteran. “During my time there, they had a leak that contaminated the surface water, the bay, everything, and this was contaminated water we’re taking on the sub and drinking, and nobody knew. I found out later about the contamination, and I ended up with neck and throat cancer—I don’t recommend it but I made it through it. The PACT Act has done amazing things for me—my disability went from 10% to 80% which made a significant difference in my life. The PACT Act has just been incredible for me, and I hope that there are other people that can benefit from this also.”

“I’m an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2004 to 2005. I was a combat engineer and my job was to blow stuff up, mostly weapons and landmines, and it wasn’t until we we’re doing our medical briefing they told us we we’re being exposed to many toxins and chemicals,” said Anton Johnson, U.S. Army Post-9/11 toxic-exposed veteran. “Now, knowing what we know and that the PACT Act is in place for guys like myself and the men and women who served, we now have the ability to look back at the things we were exposed to and know that if anything comes up, that we’re going to be covered.”

“We’ve seen the PACT Act make such a difference in so many veterans and their families,” said Sara Ball, U.S Army Post-9/11 toxic-exposed veteran and Montana Veterans Affairs Department Veterans Service Officer. “A veteran I was working with was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and filed a claim, and once the PACT Act was passed, his claim was finally granted. We also have a Thailand veteran that had an ongoing Board of Veterans Appeals’ case for his toxic exposure condition. Once the PACT Act was passed, his claim was also automatically approved. And we had another surviving spouse of a Thailand veteran who was previously denied in 2017 for burial and VA survivor benefits was granted for both because the PACT Act was passed.”

“As a nation, we’ve had 1.2 million claims received since August 10, 2022. Your guys’ benefits are being taken seriously and well deserved,” said Stefanie McCarthy, a Veterans Benefits Administration official at Fort Harrison VA Regional Hospital based out of the David J. Thatched VA Outpatient Clinic. “Those numbers speak a lot to the PACT Act and what good it’s doing for our veterans. I encourage any veteran to reach out to your service officers and help get your claims filed.”

Tester championed the PACT Act and shepherded its passage through Congress last year. 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 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 the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) 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 1.2 million PACT Act-related claims, including more than 5,800 from Montana veterans and survivors. More than 531,000 veterans and survivors are receiving PACT Act-related benefits, including more than 3,500 veterans and survivors in Montana.


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