Washington, D.C. – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor ahead of Senate passage of the Honoring Our PACT Act, legislation to help veterans exposed to burn pits during military service. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
Today is a historic, long-awaited day for our nation’s veterans. In a few moments, the Senate is finally going to pass the PACT Act, the most significant expansion of health care benefits to our veterans in generations. It is officially called the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act, because Heath Robinson was one of the many who succumb to the poisons of toxins that he was exposed to fighting for America.
For too long, our nation’s veterans have faced an absurd indignity: they enlisted to serve our country, went abroad in good health, and came back home only to get sick from toxic exposure endured while in the line of duty.
As many as three and a half million veterans have been affected by burn pits since 9/11, yet approximately 80% of all disability claims connected to burn pits have been rejected by the VA.
So many of our veterans have been fought by the VA after they fought for us as they tried to get health care benefits. Many of them had to hire lawyers just to prove their illnesses and then do a complicated legal dance to show what everyone knew, that toxic exposure from burn pits caused all kinds of cancers and other diseases.
That was so, so wrong. The indignity, the callousness of forcing veterans who got sick as they were fighting for us, because of exposure to these toxins, to have to fight for years in the VA to get the benefits they deserved, is all so wrong.
Well, that will soon be over, praise God.
To these American heroes who have carried on without the benefits they deserve, I have one thing to say: no more. Today the Senate finally takes action to right this profound wrong.
The PACT Act will finally change outdated rules at the VA that have been in effect for far too long that prevent our veterans from getting the care that they need to treat health complications caused by burn pits. It will expand eligibility for VA medical care to make sure veterans need the help actually get help.
And there's even more good news in the PACT Act. This is not just about burn pits, as important as they are: the PACT ACT will expand coverage of health issues exacerbated by Agent Orange, which over the years I have strongly pushed for in this chamber.
I want to give deep thanks to Senators Tester and Moran who worked for months to push this bill over the finish line. Their leadership on this issue has been extraordinary.
I also want to thank my colleagues – this is another bipartisan action that is accomplishing something very significant, and I want to thank my colleagues from both sides of the aisle who supported the bill through its consideration.
Most importantly, I want to thank the many veterans, Veteran Service Organizations, advocates like Jon Stewart and John Feal who never gave up on making this change happen. Because of their advocacy, our veterans will finally get the dignity and care they rightfully deserve.
If you want to take the measure of any nation, look no further than the way it treats those who sacrificed everything in the line of duty. Today the Senate is making sure we treat our heroes the way heroes deserve to be treated: with dignity and with gratitude for everything they’ve done to protect our way of life.
Gone are the days when veterans will have to struggle to prove and fight to get benefits that they deserve.
I thank my colleagues for their work, and I urge all of us to vote yes on this long-overdue legislation.