WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — First controversy, now celebration. The PACT Act is less than a day from being signed into law.
In total there are nine sections of the bill, all focusing on improving health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances. It specifically focuses on expanding locations where toxic exposures occurred.
Including burn pits in the post-9/11 era, which hits home for many active duty soldiers and veterans in the North Country.
According to NYS Division of Veteran Services Deputy Director for Program Development & Training Benjamin Pomerance, this bill has been “a long time coming.”
“We know the history and the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum and the amount of deployments they’ve had to combat theaters from 2001 onward to the present day,” Pomerance noted. “Those individuals who are combat veterans of the post-9/11 generations are going to benefit from those expanded healthcare provisions.”
The PACT Act also adds 23 medical conditions to the list covered by the VA through the Bill’s “Toxic Exposure Presumption Process.” This includes respiratory diseases ranging from asthma to COPD and several types of cancer.
It also focuses on increasing support for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam war by now focusing on deployment areas such as Thailand, Guam and American Somoa.
Retired Navy Veteran Tiffany Randall, who now works at the Jefferson County Division of Veteran Affairs, said the PACT Act will greatly support individuals she sees every day.
“So far this year we’ve helped about four hundred Vietnam veterans,” Randall shared. “Our county is one of the busiest as far as veterans services go because of Fort Drum. So it opens up the door for a lot more people who maybe didn’t have a claim before.”
As the bill is expected to be signed by President Biden on Wednesday, Pomerance said this is a major step for veteran advocates.
“The cost of war is not simply on the battlefield, the cost of war extends a long way after that,” Pomerance stated.”
After serving with soldiers in areas with toxic exposures, Randall added this will only further honor veterans in the North Country.
“I did work with people that served in these areas. This allows for them to feel validated. For them to feel that what they went through, they can now have some sort of closure,” she said.
Veterans seeking expanded benefits in the North Country should call the Jefferson County Division of Veterans Affairs at 315-785-3086.