MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — The U.S. Senate passed the PACT Act on Tuesday, expanding health care coverage for U.S. military veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic chemicals.
“You come back today from a deployment, but you don’t know what’s going to happen to you five years from now,” 21-year U.S. Army veteran Todd Haviland said about toxic exposure.
Haviland was exposed to toxins while serving in Haiti. He said the passage of the PACT Act was due for a long time.
“If the average person actually knew what the military was doing around the world and what we’ve been exposed to and what we’ve been involved in, I think that a lot more people would stand up going ‘Hey, this is screwed up, and we really need to find a way to unscrew it,’” Haviland said.
The PACT Act expands Veterans Affairs health care eligibility for veterans of Vietnam, the Gulf and post 9/11 wars. It also adds more than 20 presumptive conditions for burn pits and toxic exposures.
The White House touted the legislation as “the most significant expansion of benefits and services for toxic exposed veterans in more than 30 years.”
Haviland said the PACT Act is especially key for younger veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who otherwise were not VA eligible.
The bill stalled the week before after Democrats and Republicans disagreed on $400 billion spent by the VA being designated as mandatory spending.
“When politicians get their fingers in things, who knows how long it’s gonna take,” U.S. Navy veteran Ron Bixby said of the delay.
The two sides reached an agreement and passed on Tuesday in the Senate by an 86-11 vote.
South Carolina senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott voted in favor of the PACT Act. North Carolina senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis were split. Burr voted yes. Tillis voted no.
Of the four senators, only Graham voted in favor both times.
Haviland said Tuesday’s vote is thanks in large part to the thousands of veterans who sent letters and made phone calls to their representatives, plus people picketing in Washington over the weekend calling for Congress to pass the bill.
“It’s a big win,” Haviland said. “It’s a big win for all of us, and I think it’s something that everybody that’s been involved in no matter what level should be proud of.”
President Joe Biden said he intends to sign the legislation as soon as it hits his desk.