AFGE applauds President Joe Biden and Congress for expanding health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits and for providing funding and training for workers needed to process these new claims.
AFGE President Everett Kelley was at the White House Aug. 10 to celebrate President Biden signing the bipartisan Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act into law.
“As a veteran myself, this issue is personal to me,” Kelley said. “On behalf of the 700,000 federal and D.C. government employees we represent, a third of whom are veterans, I commend President Biden and the bipartisan group of lawmakers who voted for this legislation for fulfilling our nation’s promise to our veterans.”
The law includes AFGE-backed provisions that will:
- Expand Veterans Affairs (VA) health care for an estimated 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to toxic substances while in service.
- Provide an automatic presumption of service connection for veterans who have served in specified locations during specific time periods, which allows VBA claims processors to service veterans more efficiently and expeditiously.
- Authorize funding for 31 new medical facilities in 19 different states.
- Provide education and training to VA healthcare professionals to identify, treat, and assess the impact on veterans of illnesses related to toxic exposures.
- Provide specialized training to Veterans Benefits Administration claims processors on how to process new claims authorized under this bill. AFGE will continue to urge Congress to require the VA to consult with AFGE when designing this and other training programs for claims processors.
- Require the Secretary report to Congress on how the VA is addressing increased demand for VA health care.
- Requires the VA provide regular screenings of veterans to help determine if they have been exposed to toxic substances and may be eligible for care.
“Our union celebrates the signing of the PACT Act, as the 283,000 VA employees we represent look forward to caring for the heroes who have been left without critical medical assistance for far too long,” said Alma Lee, president of AFGE National VA Council, which represents VA workers. “AFGE health care professionals and claims processors look forward to providing these veterans the high-quality care they deserve, and we thank President Biden and Congress for making this investment in the VA.”
Due to the expected influx of new patients and new claims, AFGE is urging the VA to make sure the VA has enough employees to provide care under the new law. The VA should also quickly fill the 2,000 claims processor positions at the VBA authorized by previous legislation as well as additional workers to handle the claims backlog and newly eligible claims.
The PACT Act passed the House and the Senate on July 13 and Aug. 2 respectively.