At Hearing with VA Secretary McDonough, Tester Pushes for Path Forward on Comprehensive Toxic Exposure Legislation

VA Secretary highlights needed improvements to make toxic exposure legislation work better for veterans

As part of his continued effort to carve a path forward on delivering toxic-exposed veterans needed benefits and care, Chairman Jon Tester questioned Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2021.

“I want to thank you and your staff for being available to Congress—we appreciate that very much,” Tester told VA Secretary McDonough. “As we’ve already said, your testimony reflects additional changes that need to be made. From your perspective, what are the two or three most critical improvements that can make this legislation better for our veterans?”

“[E]ach of us—including all of you—have wrestled with this leasing requirement that we have,” responded Secretary McDonough. “We’re the only agency in the federal government that requires full Congressional authorization of each lease, and then how CBO scores those slows them way down. We’re now 21 leases behind…We’ve got the people, we’ve got ideas about how to structure the site, we just can’t get into the buildings, and we’ve got to fix that.”

In his response, McDonough also called on the Committee to include a new process for Congress to approve of VA medical leases so that new major VA lease facilities open more quickly, allowing veterans to be served in more modern facilities and improve access to health care. For years, Chairman Tester has led the charge in the Senate to help ensure VA infrastructure is better suited to provide timely and quality health care to veterans across the country, including through more flexible leasing authorities.

During the hearing, Tester honored Will Thompson—an Army veteran who testified before the Committee last year and passed away in December from the effects of burn pit exposure. The Committee also heard from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and the Fleet Reserve Association on the need for Congressional action to establish a comprehensive framework to deliver benefits and care to toxic-exposed veterans. Ahead of the hearing, Tester met with veteran advocate Jon Stewart to discuss passing extensive toxic exposure reforms this year.

Tester introduced his Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act in May of last year—comprehensive legislation that would provide generations of veterans suffering from conditions related to their toxic exposures due benefits and care. Since that time, the Senator has been working closely with Ranking Member Jerry Moran, House Veterans’ Affairs Chair Mark Takano and the Biden Administration to chart a path forward on toxic exposure. The Honoring our PACT Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation similar to Tester’s COST of War Act, which recognizes the federal government’s responsibility in providing health care and disability compensation to veterans fighting the effects of toxic exposure connected to their military service.

Tester’s Q&A can be found HERE.